By Carol Tannenhauser
Hanukkah is here and so is Christmas. If you need a present, or simply a pick-me-up on a dreary, down-news day, you might consider a trip to a local toy store. WSR visited two this week to see how they’re doing in this make-it-or-break-it holiday season. We found them bursting with color, crammed to their ceilings with toys, books and crafts, and run by two salt-of-the-UWS small business owners, offering just what you are seeking.
Jennifer Bergman and Donna Schofield have a lot in common.
Jennifer is the owner of West Side Kids, a long-standing, independent toy store on Amsterdam Avenue and 84th Street, started by her mom 38 years ago.
Donna took over Stationery and Toy World, on 72nd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, from her dad, who bought it 33 years ago.
Their stores are only 14 blocks apart, so it was a little surprising when Jennifer, who we saw first, said, “Definitely cover Donna, too! She absolutely needs it. We’re in the same boat. We saw each other at the Save Our Stores meeting and exchanged notes.”
When we told Donna later, she replied, “Listen, we’re all in this together.”
Both women assured us that they are not in danger of closing; they recently signed new leases. But times are tough. Jennifer’s sales are down 15% this year-to-date, and Donna’s are down 25%. Jennifer didn’t beat around the bush.
“We all know why business isn’t good,” she said, as we sat in a back room of West Side Kids, which she uses for events and exhibitions, on Kindergarten-sized chairs. “We all know why stores are vacant. We can see the trucks and packages out there on the streets and in our lobbies. My mom says, ‘Maybe you’re just seeing it because you’re looking for it.’ I don’t think so. It seems like there’s so much more this year.”
“Go see Donna,” Jennifer urged. “She has so many toys. If I don’t have something, I always send my customers to her.”
“Yeah,” Donna said, smiling, as she stood behind the register at Stationery and Toy World, 14 blocks south. “The last time it was juggling balls. Jennifer was out of stock, so she called me and I had one pack left. She sent her customer down. I do the same thing.”
Just then, a couple approached the register to pay. Obviously, they had overheard our conversation, because the woman said, “Now I feel guilty that I bought anything on Amazon, but I had a kidney stone I was trying to pass. I couldn’t get out here!”
(WSR: “That’s the best excuse I’ve heard yet!”)
“Every single person that you know and I know shops online,” Jennifer said. “I shop online. I don’t know how to avoid it at this point. But I don’t buy from Amazon. I only buy from sites that have brick-and-mortar stores. There needs to be a correction, a balance.”
“My mom came in the other day,” she added. “She says we’ve been through so many other things in the past and this is just another hurdle we have to get over. She may be right. I don’t know. It seems different this time. It’s consumer-driven.”
In the meantime, the toys await, and the gift wrap is ready.
Stationery and Toy World, 125 West 72nd Street, 212-580-3922, Monday to Saturday: 9:00am to 7:00pm, Sunday: 10:00am to 5:00pm.
West Side Kids, 498 Amsterdam Avenue, (212) 496-7282, Monday to Thursday: 11 to 7, Friday and Saturday: 10 to 7, Sunday, 11 to 6.