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Thousands turn out for opening of Queens Center Mall’s Lego store

More than 3,000 people of all ages celebrated the opening of a Lego store in Queens Center Mall this weekend by creating an 8-foot-tall model of the beloved “Star Wars” robot R2-D2 and feted the toys that builders said help form a love for architecture and engineering.

From toddlers to grandparents, borough and city residents descended upon the shopping mall in Elmhurst to help build the massive structure and cheered the opening of the store that carries the famed interlocking plastic bricks from which people can build everything from models of spaceships to the Guggenheim Museum.

“We’ve had people ages 1 to 90 come this weekend,” said Dan Steininger, a master model builder at Lego’s Connecticut headquarters who led the efforts to create R2-D2 Friday, Saturday and Sunday. “We’ll have parents come with their kids who will stand by for a little bit, but before you know it, they all want to build, too.”

Of the thousands of people who came to the store’s grand opening, many of the children said they did so because of a long attachment to Legos — and a definite admiration for “Star Wars.”

Benjamin, 6, and Nate, 7, O’Toole of Glendale came to build the robot with their mother.

“How can you beat this?” said Dawn O’Toole, also of Glendale. “It’s Legos.”

Nate O’Toole, who has already spent much time working on his Lego “Star Wars” kit at home, said he hopes to be a master model builder like Steininger — a sentiment repeated by many children throughout the event, which pleased parents who were told by Steininger that the career path includes studying subjects like art, sculpting and computers. Even if children do not eventually go on to work for Lego, Steininger said many of the toys’ devotees become engineers.

“A lot of parents will tell me their kids would play with Legos all the time, and I’d always ask them if their child was an engineer,” he said. “At least seven out of 10 times they were.”

Tomas Butelman, 11, of Manhattan said he hopes to be an architect and said being so familiar with Legos could give his career a definite boost.

“These are helpful for architects,” Butelman said of the blocks. “They can use Legos to show clients what a building will look like.”

Elmhurst resident Uciel Vilchis, 16, also said he hopes to be an architect or engineer.

“Legos appeal to anybody,” Uciel said. “You’re bound to find a set you like.”

Children and their parents crammed into the Lego store over the weekend, looking at the exhibit cases that showed a $99.99 spaceship made from 1,204 pieces and a $149.99 fire brigade set made from 2,231 blocks. Less expensive units exist as well, including a $19.99 racetrack. Individuals also perused models of pirate ships, construction vehicles, carousels, the Guggenheim and the Empire State building.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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