Toy stores are rife in Chicago. If you need a Tickle Me Elmo, visit Toys R Us. For the diehard collector, it’s easy to find a specialized store to purchase that vintage Han Solo figure. But for something unique that everyone you know doesn’t own, designer toy store and gallery Rotofugi (pronounced Roe-tow-foo-jee) has it.
Situated in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood, husband and wife owners Kirby and Whitney Kerr opened the atypical store in July 2004. Inside, myriad toys reside on shelves. It’s very organized and neat for a toy shop. Rotofugi offers an overwhelming amount of choices, like a candyland of many-sized plush and vinyl toys manifesting as different species of monsters, animals and other strange creatures. These toys are completely original, and despite the strong Japanese imprint, are designed by artists from all around the world.
Recently, Rotofugi joined forces with Squibbles Ink to bring more local artists’ works to the store. Art works run the gamut from Frank Kozik’s “Smokin’ Joe,” a bust of Stalin holding a cigarette in his mouth, to Spicy Brown’s Tofu Robot, a cute vinyl robot-like toy representing the food it’s named after. California company Circus Punks sells its vintage knockdown dolls, as seen in carnival games. Artist Shawn Smith presents his Shawnimals collection of Smurfish creatures and ninjas, and David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim construct menacing yet loveable fanged plush dolls called Uglydolls. Besides toys, Rotofugi also sells t-shirts, art prints, handmade skateboards and books.
Adjacent to the store is Rotofugi’s gallery space exhibiting monthly shows from a different artist every month. The current exhibit is “Odds and Ends,” a group show of gallery artists. Ken Keirns features his sexual doe-eye female paintings. His best work, called “The Business,” features a painting of a stoic mobster monkey with a car ablaze in the background. Travis Lampe’s paintings of a despair ridden grotesque creature are also on display. The February show will consist of artist Gabe Lanza’s drawings of “Robot Invasion and Other Arrivals.”
The gallery nicely complements the store, offering an extension of the artistic toys. The Kerrs have found a way to merge the best of the toy world with the best of the art world proving Chicago is not only a flourishing international hub but that it’s a small robot world after all. (Garin Pirnia)
Rotofugi is located at 1953 West Chicago, (312)491-9501, rotofugi.com.