The Deep Blue Ridge: Man’s legacy of Hot Wheels lives on through a Radford family’s business

The business buys, sells and trades collectibles from all over the world

The bond between a father and son over their passion for Hot Wheels collectibles is stronger than ever thanks to the life and legacy of a close family friend.

RADFORD, Va. – The bond between a father and son over their passion for Hot Wheels collectibles is stronger than ever thanks to the life and legacy of a close family friend.

Ralph Stewart and his son Jonathan Stewart own and operate ‘Now, Then and Forever Collectibles and Gift Shop’ in Radford.

Ralph Stewart and his son Jonathan making a stop while going to pickup a collection (WSLS)

The establishment, located at 237 West Main Street in Radford, is filled wall to wall with thousands of tiny Hot Wheels.

Jonathan said it was a fun venture that started by accident.

“Five years ago, we decided to sell what we had just to be done with it,” he said. “It ended up going in the opposite direction. Instead of selling, we started buying and this is what it turned into.”

“If you come in the store, you could see probably about 25,000 cars,” said Ralph. “What you can’t see is probably another 70-80,000 so we have about 100,000 cars total.”

Now, Then and Forever Collectibles and Gift Shop (WSLS)

Every day is a different day for the family, where Ralph Stewart is more and likely working seven days a week.

He said he loves it because the workers and customers alike are like family.

A typical customer could come in here and spend hours. Sometimes, they won’t even buy anything. They just want to walk around and look. We want it to just be a friendly place where people can come and hang out. For example, we have one gentleman whose wife will drop him off because he can’t drive anymore. While she goes and run errands, he’ll hang out here. We just hang out.”

Ralph Stewart

The business buys, sells and trades collectibles from all over the world.

Ralph said there is a reason why the shop’s name is Now, Then and Forever Collectibles.

“They are the cars of today, the cars of then, and forever,” he said. “Everyone collects them. Some people come in and ask about their first cars and if we have them. A lot of times, we can actually find the one that they had and the color if we go back and google it. It is a lot of fun. It lets a lot of us old guys out of our shells, and it’s cool to see who all collects.”

He said on a given day, they have 20-30 customers but on the weekends, they will have up to 40-50 customers.

They said it is a cool deal to be able to share their childhood bond of love for cars with the community now.

“Back in the day, I was looking for something we could do together, and I think that is what happens a lot of times with fathers and sons and mothers and daughters,” said Ralph.

“Fourteen years old we go to our first convention in Atlanta, Georgia for Hot Wheels,” said Jonathan. “We were completely blown away because we had no idea. We were new to the game and didn’t know anything.”

It gives us that connection with something we could like together. Back in the day, it was a cheap thing we could do. When he was eight, these cars were like 70 cents. We had a chance to bond and do that and it has continued.”

Ralph Stewart

That bond was held tightly together by Donald Cook, their close family friend.

He went by Donnie and used to own his own car lot, buying and trading actual vehicles when he met the Stewart family decades ago.

Donnie Cook and his wife (WSLS)
Donnie Cook when he owned his own car lot (WSLS)
Donnie Cook (WSLS)
Donnie Cook (WSLS)
Donnie Cook (WSLS)
Donnie Cook (WSLS)

“My passion for working for other people and the cars itself stems from my Uncle Donnie with the car lot,” said Jonathan. “He would go to auto auctions on Monday and buy cars, and then I would get in them and drive to West Virginia, stay with my grandparents and then come back on Friday. Then, he started doing repossessions and showing me how to handle people. I was doing that since I was 14 or 15 years old. But my love has always been something to do with cars.”

Before really leaning into taking on a business for Hot Wheels, Ralph was working in banking. During that period in his life, he and Donnie were close.

“He was my brother,” Ralph said. “I probably wouldn’t have any of this if it wasn’t for Donnie running with us and supporting us. He was a very special, Christian man.”

Filled with life, love, wisdom and passion, Donnie was the backbone of the business.

Donnie Cook (WSLS)

On any given day, you could find him with his Hot Wheel family.

He was loved and greatly respected by customers and the car-collecting community.

Donnie was always there with the family, whether it was in the store or traveling to meet a big collector.

Donnie Cook (WSLS)
Donnie Cook (WSLS)
Donnie Cook (WSLS)

“He went with me just about every trip I went on up until two months before he passed away,” Ralph said. “I still miss those days. You become family and Donnie was family even before the cars.”

Devastatingly, Donnie passed away on May 7, 2019, at the age of 76.

“Unbeknownst to all of us, he had cancer,” Ralph said as he got emotional. “April 17, he went to the doctor, and they told him he had cancer. Twenty days later, he was gone.”

Donnie Cook (WSLS)

“Nobody will ever know the bond deep down between us,” said Jonathan as he revealed a tattoo he had made in honor of Donnie as a picture of Donnie’s license plate number. “Plain and simple it was tough…still is.”

Now, Then and Forever Collectibles is a thriving business with a warm atmosphere, and that is thanks to Donnie whose memories are still present.

“His personality,” Jonathan said. “His jokes. Cutting up and always laughing. He never a bad thing to say about anybody.”

Donnie also had a unique way of encouraging people to stick to their word when they said they would do something.

He did so through a small round wooden coin with the words ‘Round Tuit’ on it.

A Round Tuit coin (WSLS)

“If someone came in and he asked them about a project that person was working on and said, ‘Well, I will do it when I get around to it,’ Donnie would hand them a coin and say, ‘Here’s your one. Now go do it.’”

They said Donnie suffered from lung cancer despite quitting smoking a while before his passing.

The duo said they saw Donnie every day.

“He would walk in the door, and he could tell you if something was moved or if something was new,” Ralph said. “When he was here, we would hear a stumble of some sort and Donnie would say, ‘I’m okay!’”

Donnie Cook (WSLS)

Ralph said Donnie’s favorite road-trip snack would be orange-slice gummies and circus peanuts.

He said as he visits Donnie’s gravesite, he still brings his favorites.

“Another thing he would always say is, ‘I told you I was sick,’ and he was laugh,” Ralph said. “It is on his grave marker. He has a flower arrangement and Hot Wheels on it.”

Donnie Cook grave marker (WSLS)

In honor of Donnie, the duo’s engine is staying strong to carry out his legacy that will continue to race through the store and through the family.

“I got a 14-year-old son that is now doing with my dad what I did with him when I was 14 years old,” Jonathan said.

So, the next time you get ‘around to’ visiting Now, Then and Forever Collectibles, remember how Donnie lived until he reached his finish line.

“Live each day as you last and enjoy it,” said Ralph.

Donnie Cook (WSLS)

If you are interested in visiting the shop or if you would like to participate in any of the virtual auctions the business does, you can visit their Facebook page.

Also, if you know someone who has a story or if you would like to share your story, contact me directly:


Social Media: Japhanie Gray WSLS 10 News

Phone: 540-512-1555

About the Author:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.