Kentucky toy store deals in one-of-a-kind weirdness


By Josh Moore - Lexington Herald-Leader



Earth to Kentucky in Covington specializes in unique Star Wars action figures, including artistic bootleg versions, that originated from the now-defunct Kenner toy company in Cincinnati.

Earth to Kentucky in Covington specializes in unique Star Wars action figures, including artistic bootleg versions, that originated from the now-defunct Kenner toy company in Cincinnati.


Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS

Christopher Ryder created “Colonel Kong” for a group art toy show featuring interpretations of Colonel Sanders-style resin figures sculpted by Scott Cherry.

Christopher Ryder created “Colonel Kong” for a group art toy show featuring interpretations of Colonel Sanders-style resin figures sculpted by Scott Cherry.


Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS

EARTH TO KENTUCKY

WHAT: Toy store/art gallery

WHERE: 836 Main St., Covington, Kentucky 41011

HOURS: Noon-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; Noon-5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday-Tuesday

More information: earth2kentucky.com

COVINGTON, Ky. — A Northern Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati is home to a unique toy store that celebrates the defunct Ohio toy company that helped put action figures on the map.

Earth to Kentucky sits at the corner of Main Street and W 9th Street just three miles south of the shuttered toy-maker Kenner’s original headquarters.

The toy store puts on a monthly-ish show in which dozens of artists create “bootleg” toys inspired by the 3-and-3/4-inch “Star Wars” action figures that transformed Kenner into a juggernaut in the late 1970s. The pieces are put up for sale to the general public and have fetched upwards of $400.

That event isn’t the only thing that makes Earth to Kentucky stand apart from your standard comic or hobby shops. There are some cheaper knickknacks intended for children and plenty of collector-level goods for purchase that you’d find on shelves elsewhere, but far more noticeable are the things you won’t see anywhere else.

Where else can you snap a selfie with a Jar Jar Binks mannequin in drag while the 1968 sci-fi film “Gamera vs. Viras” plays on a nearby television, for instance?

“Obviously it’s a toy store and part art gallery,” says co-owner Dustin Benzing, “but we’re trying to roll into that sort of ‘roadside attraction.’ We’ve always loved the little weird spots in Kentucky that you can find, like in Cave City. We won’t necessarily be something like that, but we want to carry that vibe and that tradition of showmanship.”

Dustin and his wife, Polly, opened Earth to Kentucky in September 2020 to greater fanfare than anticipated, given the state of the world. What could have been horrid timing, he suspects, was fortuitous in part because COVID-19 restrictions were starting to ease and people were more willing to find any reason to get out and about. The opening of a bizarro toy store with Robert Ripley-like curated wares, it turns out, was just what people wanted.

Well, some people.

“People either come in and they get really excited, and they’re just like, ‘What is this?’ cause it’s like sensory overload sometimes,” Benzing said. “And then, it’s funny, there’s people that will walk in the front door, do a loop and just go right back out without saying a word, because it’s not for them. And that’s okay, I get it.”

Dustin’s been fascinated with science fiction and toy collecting since he was a kid. He studied art at Northern Kentucky University before a career in printing that lasted more than 20 years. In his spare time, he worked mostly in linocutting and wood sculpting, a hobby that eventually connected him with Dov Kelemer, a well-known advocate for pop-culture art and designer toys. Through his relationship with Kelemer, Dustin started forging others with artists around the country and he has spiraled down the “rabbit hole” ever since.

Polly, who works in commercial real estate, is responsible for much of the layout, which sometimes changes from week to week. Their daughter, Mabel, is an employee, and son Oskar is an artist who’s contributed pieces to shows. It’s a true “mom-and-pop” business, even if the trappings aren’t what you’d expect from an upstart shop. At its core, Earth to Kentucky is selling nostalgia, so it’s oddly fitting that it operates in a manner reminiscent of a time when the kind of pop culture it celebrates — science fiction, action figures, general “weirdness” — was much less embraced by society than it is in 2022.

“We want people, when they leave the shop, to have discovered either a new toy, a new artist, seen something they’ve never seen before, and maybe have fun,” Benzing says.

Colonel Sanders show

Earth to Kentucky’s goal is to hold monthly rotating art galleries, consisting of themed group shows and shows supported by singular artists. The latest show centered around a Kentucky icon: Colonel Sanders. Artists were sent a blank mold of a 3 and 3/4-inch scale figure of the Kentucky Fried Chicken mascot (sculpted by Los Angeles-based artist Scott Cherry) and were encouraged to do whatever they saw fit with it.

Among the 33 pieces in the exhibit resulting from that exercise: “Colonel Myers,” a Michael Myers-inspired Sanders complete with a diorama of the “Halloween” slasher’s childhood home; “Stretch Sanders,” themed after another popular toy, Stretch Armstrong; “Deep Fried Guy,” which reimagines Food Network star Guy Fieri as the Colonel; “KFC-3PO,” which has a Droid-like Sanders riding aboard a Chewbacca-themed Grimace, a retired McDonald’s mascot; and “ColonelJuice,” a Beetlejuice take on Sanders designed by Jonathan Queen, a Cincinnati-based artist who painted “Cincinnati Toy Heritage,” a downtown mural that recognizes Kenner’s contributions to the city.

Most of the pieces have sold. The on-site show ran through May 8, but pieces will continue to be available for purchase through Earth to Kentucky’s website.

Earth to Kentucky in Covington specializes in unique Star Wars action figures, including artistic bootleg versions, that originated from the now-defunct Kenner toy company in Cincinnati.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2022/05/web1_TS-KY-TOY-STORE-LX.jpgEarth to Kentucky in Covington specializes in unique Star Wars action figures, including artistic bootleg versions, that originated from the now-defunct Kenner toy company in Cincinnati. Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS
Christopher Ryder created “Colonel Kong” for a group art toy show featuring interpretations of Colonel Sanders-style resin figures sculpted by Scott Cherry.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2022/05/web1_TS-KY-TOY-STORE-2-LX.jpgChristopher Ryder created “Colonel Kong” for a group art toy show featuring interpretations of Colonel Sanders-style resin figures sculpted by Scott Cherry. Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS

By Josh Moore

Lexington Herald-Leader

EARTH TO KENTUCKY

WHAT: Toy store/art gallery

WHERE: 836 Main St., Covington, Kentucky 41011

HOURS: Noon-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; Noon-5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday-Tuesday

More information: earth2kentucky.com

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