Iconic Upper West Side Toy Store Closes For Now; Owner Says ‘I’m Especially Worried About My Mom’

By Carol Tannenhauser

West Side Kids, an independent toy store on Amsterdam Avenue and West 84th Street, has closed for the first time in its 38-year history. Owner Jennifer Bergman explained why in an email to friends and neighbors on Tuesday.

“I am deeply concerned for my business as well as my beloved city, this polarized nation and complicated world,” she wrote. “But, selfishly, I’m especially worried about my mom. Alice Bergman started West Side Kids in 1981 and is 84 years old. She lives on the UWS. She’s incredibly active but is also a member of the population most vulnerable to the coronavirus. So, when the health officials said the only way we can slow the curve on this thing is to stay home, go nowhere, that’s exactly what my family did. Full stop. And it’s what I’ve asked my staff to do as well.”

Alice and Jennifer.

This is what WSR wrote about Alice Bergman in a 2017 profile of the store: “An early feminist and civil rights activist, Alice had started a handmade toy company in 1971 – when [Jennifer] was in nursery school at West Side Montessori – called “Toys for All Children,” eschewing the then-standard blond, blue-eyed, male-dominated version of reality for a more ethnically diverse, non-sexist one. ‘She made an African-American, woman-doctor puppet – in 1971!’” [Jennifer] exulted. “‘She was way ahead of her time.’”

Jennifer Bergman.

Here is Jennifer’s letter in full. It exemplifies the spirit, resilience, creativity and commitment to community of Upper West Side small business owners.

March 17, 2020

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Wow! So this is epic. We have never, in 38 years ever been closed. Not for 9-11, not for a snowstorm, blackout, hurricane, illness or death in the family. Never. It’s unprecedented. And most of my small business friends can say the same. But, yesterday, West Side Kids closed. Not forever, but indefinitely.

I’ve been asked if we can do deliveries; if we can sell online; if we would open for a few hours by appointment. Yes, I said, I want to do all of this… but then I paused.

I am deeply concerned for my business as well as my beloved city, this polarized nation and complicated world. But, selfishly, I’m especially worried about my mom. Alice Bergman, who started West Side Kids in 1981 is 84 years old. She lives on the UWS. She’s incredibly active but is also a member of the most vulnerable population for the coronavirus. So, when the health officials said the only way we can slow the curve on this thing is to stay home, go nowhere, that’s exactly what my family did. Full stop. And it’s what I’ve asked my staff to do as well.

And when I can, we will open again. Whether it’s online or by appointment or some other way. When we do, you’ll be the first to know.

I’m sitting here coming up with ideas for how to stay in business once they say it’s safe to move around again. I have plans. But right now, I’m staying put. And I’m asking you to also. Don’t do anything but shelter in place. Don’t wait for the government to tell us we must. This is scary and consuming but let’s not let it win.

I believe in the common good, and right now, at this very moment, we are in the thick of understanding, in the most literal sense, what that really means. Yes, people need to earn money and we don’t want to shut down the economy, but we can help it limp along by keeping money in people’s pockets in other ways. Be creative, you’ll think of something to do. We can keep this country going for at least a short while with our kindness and generosity. And when we can go back to work, we will recover. Together.

We are the greatest city in the world. Let’s show them how it’s done.

Sending love and strength,

Jennifer Bergman

NEWS | 25 comments | permalink
    1. Rako says:

      Well that’s a misleading title…

    2. Benay lindenauer says:

      Dear Jennifer,
      I am so very sorry for your family as well as the community. We originally met when you were a student at PS.84. My boys, Karl and Erik,
      were in you class. I became friendly with your parents.
      Your store was amazing.
      I bought fabulous things there for my children and grandchildren .
      Sending my heartfelt thanks to you and your mom.
      Benay Lindenauer

    3. Deborah says:

      Thank you Jennifer. I shopped at your store with my children and now show there for my grandchildren.
      Love and strength to you and your mum. Please post a photo of her. I shopped in the store when it was called New York Kids.
      Your advice is being heeded at my house.
      Love and strength all round ~

    4. Peggy Salwen says:

      You’re welcome to do what is best for you guys and mom. I remember your Mom well. My children grew up in your store, I bought puppets and stuff for library story times, and I still come in to get gifts for Helen Rosenthal’s Christmas Toy Drive.
      We will wait until you open again. Stay safe.

    5. Peter says:

      God bless you

    6. UWSSurfer says:

      Westside Kids is a wonderful, whimsical toy store with amazing things! I particularly loved the window display that had a doll who was a young activist.

      Jennifer and her mom are incredible people. I wish them and the staff all the best. I hope they are able to reopen soon!

    7. Meebs says:

      A great way to help all of our local businesses right now is to buy gift certificates!

    8. Jennifer BAUM says:

      We used to live in your mom’s building so please send her our best. hopefully your store, and the community you’ve fostered, will not only survive, but flourish in the new world we will be meeting. Stay strong. Stay safe.

    9. Nelson says:

      Jennifer, you and your mom are awesome women! Do what your heart & brain tell you…stay safe and well…God Bless! We will see you—soon!

    10. Marian L. says:

      Let’s visualize the reopening. I, too, a customer for my children and grandchildren – I’m now 83 years old. Still come in, happily wander around. Nay we all find inner calm together so we can again play and have fun in your store. All of my kids and grandkids got theirfirst harmonicas at WS Kids.

    11. Dorian says:

      I believe I will be shopping with this amazing, insightful woman as soon as she–and we all–are open for business. Brava.

    12. Stanley Sterenberg says:

      Jennifer — I’m glad I got to see you last week and to purchase a couple of presents for my Brooklyn friend’s two kids (not delivered yet). It was nice chatting and realizing that we both know JN (your former soccer teammate, and R’s mom)). Be well during this respite, and enjoy your mom’s company. All of your customers will be there waiting for you when you are able to reopen. Stay safe!

    13. Linda Miner says:

      What a great letter, Jennie. A real tribute to your mom, and to you!

    14. Sysan Kagan says:

      An admirable statement!

    15. The highlight of my children and grandchildren lives has been West Side Kids we CANNOT imagine a West Side with out it
      The toys the books the games are so so educational, carefully planned out , so age appropriate , the legos are never violent
      I look forward to a new and even better time very soon and we will try to help bring back the most wonderful store ever
      I can’t even imagine having a seder with out the promised visit to West Side Kids for the presents

      • Thank you to everyone that has posted such kind words!
        My mom is a little stir crazy, but she’s well. I am too. We are selling Gift Cards on our website: WestSideKids.com
        If you can, please purchase one and I will be sending them out in the next few days. You’ll be able to use it once the website is up and running or we reopen, whichever comes first!
        Stay safe everybody! Jenny

    16. Louisa Cabot Myers says:

      We have loved and patronized your wonderful store for
      38 years.
      I wish you and Alice good health and a comfortable,
      safe healthy time during this awful time.
      You WILL open again!
      Thank you,
      Louisa

    17. Kim says:

      West Side Kids has been part of our family since my first child was born in 1987. They grew up going to the store. Now I have been going to the store for my grandkids. I understand why you are closing and I hope that when this has passed and we come out the other side that you can reopen. Stay healthy and tell your mom to stay inside!!!

    18. Margaret says:

      Jennifer,
      A beautiful comment about what you are doing and what you are protecting. I agree with you about Alice and how we have to act to protect the world from our selfish ways. I pray that you and your store and your mother will survive this event and that NYC will also thrive again soon.

    19. Deb McCollister says:

      Bless you, Jennifer and my best wishes to your amazing mother! A trailblazer for us all.

    20. Alex says:

      I would love to place an order from her over email – I hope she’ll let us know if they do open up for more online ordering.

    21. ScooterStan says:

      Re: “We are the greatest city in the world. Let’s show them how it’s done.”

      YES, we are and we will!!

      AND, one reason is UWSers like yourself, Ms. Bergman.

      Best wishes to you and your Mom.

    22. GB says:

      The Bergmans are UWS pioneers, stalwarts who paved the way for retailers and residents who came later. We lived a couple of blocks away (and we still do) when your mother took a risk and opened her store. Others followed and the neighborhood gradually became the thriving, safe, family centered community it is today. Few people remember what it was like in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s or can appreciate the tough times your mother must have had. Thanks for all you both have done. CoronaVirus will eventually pass but e-commerce will continue to take it’s toll on our local stores. Don’t leave us!

      • Alice Bergman says:

        It has been wonderful to hear from so many customers and friends who are sending their good wishes to Jenny and West Side Kids. We’ve heard from friends I knew before I opened the store and friends that I made in the store. It’s so nice to know that we played a part in your childrens’ lives. This is a hard time but with supporters like you, how can Jen not get through this. THANKS!