If the tale of Pinocchio had been set in downtown San José, Geppetto would have been named Mario Lizano and rather than a toymaker, he would have been a doll doctor and a disc jockey at a Catholic radio station.
Though Lizano has worked for more than 20 years to bring life back to damaged dolls, he is no fictional character.
Until recently, the 62-year-old Costa Rican owned and operated a small doll repair shop in San José called the Clínica de Muñecas (Doll Clinic) that earned him international repute. The store’s previous owner and founder, the late Walter Freer, operated it for several decades before that.
Lizano closed the shop last year after he decided to retire and dedicate more time to his volunteer position as a DJ at Radio María, where he has a show aimed at rescuing traditional Costa Rican tunes.
However, he said it made him sad to close up shop, so he still repairs toys at his home in San José, where dolls are seated in his living room and toys loom from behind the furniture.
An upstairs room, his main workshop these days, is filled with mangled dolls and toys. Boxes labeled “right arms,” “eyes,” and other body parts clutter the shelves, while doll heads – with and without eyes – poke out from plastic bags on the floor.
Anyone who has watched too many horror films might find the workshop slightly creepy. However, Lizano said he’s not afraid of his dolls (not even after watching the Child’s Play movies about the diabolical doll Chucky) and he has never witnessed a supernatural doll occurrence.
The doll doctor told The Tico Times that though he stumbled across some minor grievances while he ran his clinic, for the most part he felt like some kind of Santa Claus who made children happy by fixing their broken toys.
“It moved me a lot to see little girls crying… little boys complaining because their toy cars didn’t work… and then you’d see their faces when you returned them their (fixed) toys, so happy over such a simple thing, which is a huge problem in their infantile world,” he said during a recent interview in his living room, next to two dolls that share the name “Paco.”
Aside from children and their parents, his customers include older adults who wish to repair their childhood toys.
“Those are the ones I best like to fix, old dolls. Many ladies come and take a look at their (repaired) dolls and burst into tears,” he said, reminiscing about his own favorite childhood toys – an army of toy soldiers and an electric train of which all that remains is the track.
A favorite activity during his childhood, he said, was crushing his toys with bricks and then fixing them.He said he is naturally dexterous, a skill required to become a doll doctor along with other qualities such as patience.
Lizano said Freer taught him how to repair dolls after he sold him the clinic.
Before that, the doll doctor worked at a family-owned furniture factory.
Lizano, who said he purchased the clinic for entertainment and not to get rich, admitted he always found it hard to put a price on his varied repairs. He said he might charge anywhere from ¢3,000 (approximately $6) for a change of eyes to ¢90,000 (approximately $175) to restore an antique doll.
While clients often came in to have their dolls cleaned and brushed up, Lizano said he also remembers fixing a lot of toy cars. His greatest challenge is removing ink stains.
“Ink is the worst thing that can happen to a doll. It just doesn’t come off,” he said, recalling moments when it was impossible to make dolls look brand new again and his customers would complain.
Apart from having to work practically non-stop each December, Lizano said he considers these dissatisfied clients some of the minor frustrations of his trade.
The doll doctor never hired any employees to work at his shop but did most repairs himself with the help of his ex-wife, Ileana, whom he called part of his inspiration to purchase the clinic.
A father of four children from two marriages, Lizano said that despite – or perhaps because of – his profession, none of his kids, ages 11 to 41, ever liked dolls.
To schedule a consultation with the doll doctor, call his home at 223-2805.