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'It Was A Nightmare': Vintage NJ Toy Store Owners Struggled To Relocate During Pandemic

AJ Maltese, co-owner of Zonk's POP Culture World in Little Ferry
AJ Maltese, co-owner of Zonk's POP Culture World in Little Ferry Photo Credit: Zonk's POP Culture World via Facebook

A Lodi business owner has jumped through hoops to reopen his toy shop after attempting to relocate in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AJ Maltese, 25 -- who you may recognize from this story -- was supposed to move Zonk's POP Culture World into its new Little Ferry shop with business partner Anthony Ditizio in March.

The store, which is named after Maltese’s nickname and favorite video game, Air Zonk, first opened in Butler in June of 2019.

After recognizing a desire to expand and relocate, the duo signed a two-year lease on their new Little Ferry storefront on Main Street beginning March 1. But to their disappointment, New Jersey's virus shutdown went into effect just one day before their anticipated start date.

Maltese and Ditizio were scrambled to make ends meet between March and June.

They couldn’t begin to move stock into the new store because utilities hadn’t been turned on. They were forced to conduct business online so they'd be in compliance with all social distancing standards and restrictions.

They were worried.

“It was a nightmare,” Maltese told Daily Voice.

“We didn't want to give up. We love what we do. We love having a store. It was a struggle and still is.”

At one point, there were even fears of having to permanently close the store before the store had fully opened to the public.

But the social-media savvy pair managed to stay afloat by advertising newly stocked consoles, games and other merchandise on Facebook each day. 

Maltese and Ditizio were finally able to make their move on June 15.

Finally, the new store opened for appointments and curbside pickups the following week.

The business owners continue to make the best of their situation at the new store by trading and selling their merchandise through curbside pickups, personal appointments and even home drop-offs.

Though Maltese said the Little Ferry shop won’t officially open to the public until the end of July or early August, he and Ditizio are already working on a plan to expand yet again within the next five years.

Despite the unpredictable setbacks, Maltese says he finds deep meaning in running a storefront and being able to sell merchandise in times of such turmoil.

“It lets us provide for our families and ourselves without having to sell stuff online,” he said.

“We love being a part of the community as well. Little Ferry is a great town!”

Zonk's POP Culture World, 171 Main St., Little Ferry

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