How a Toy Store Stayed Afloat During Covid By Expanding Its Product Line — Even to Toilet Paper

By Susanne Beck

Donna Schofield never imagined that hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes would show up on her order sheet for new inventory, much less top it. But as everyone knows by now, 2020 has been anything but a typical year, even for the much loved, stuffed-to-the-rafters, traditional Stationery and Toy World on West 72nd street off of Columbus Avenue.

“As my dad said, who would have thought that we’d sell toilet paper?” Schofield mused one recent morning, as if still not quite believing how the year has panned out. Standing behind the cluttered checkout counter that she has manned for decades, along with a handful of support personnel, she reflected on the sudden shift in her business.

These days, holiday gifts and wrapping are front and center.

In mid-March, when it became clear that New York was headed for a commercial shut down, many local businesses closed or at least paused. Schofield, ever nimble, especially after the devastating effects that Hurricane Sandy had on her operation, never shut her doors.  She pivoted instead, calling on long-standing relationships with loyal suppliers to shift her product mix to all things sanitary. By the end of the month, seasonal party favors typically featured at the front of the pint-sized entertainment store were displaced by plastic gloves, gallon-sized hand sanitizer jugs, paper towels and, yes, toilet paper – all the goods that had sent New Yorkers – and their peers across the country – into a binge-buying frenzy.

“Honestly, the hurricane was worse for us. We lost, I don’t know, hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory on Staten Island. It was devastating because it was uninsured,” Schofield recalls. Her eyes well up and she takes a breath to hold back tears as she remembers the neighborhood’s reaction. “That was when we learned how important we are to the Upper West Side.” Long-time customers bought gift certificates and purchased what they could to lift sales. When they learned that the Schofield family had suffered losses of their own, they flooded the store with clothing for her children, a vacuum, bath towels and other basic home goods.

“It’s amazing how many people love us here,” Schofield says.

Staying open as the pandemic hit, with heightened attention to keeping her employees and herself safe in the process, seemed like the neighborly thing to do in response. Her regular customers clearly appreciated the gesture. “We did a great business in March, honestly,” Schofield remembers. In addition to COVID-related goods, puzzles were big. Birthday party items also sold well as parents tried their best to make socially distant, outdoor celebrations for their children as festive as they had always been indoors.  April was slower and the early summer close to dead as families began to leave the city and panic-buying slowed. The back-to-school rush never materialized, either. Schofield says with virtual learning, kids and teachers just didn’t need the normal supplies.

But Stationery and Toy World has managed to plug along. Schofield goes out of her way to credit her landlord for enabling her to stay financially afloat.  “He worked with me for six months and has already told me he can be flexible on payments in the future.”  She tears up again when she talks about her crew. “My boys have been so good to me,” she gushes, in a tone generally reserved for family, not employees. “I wouldn’t have survived without them.”

“It was fortunate we could stay open,” Schofield says. And it’s lucky, too, for Upper West Siders, to know that the beloved emporium of toys, games, and other childhood diversions, will be there for them as the holiday season approaches and the city hunkers down yet again for another few months of primarily indoor life.

NEWS | 19 comments | permalink
    1. Ben Jade says:

      This store is a mini gold mine. I have patronized it for years. When you need a gift for a kid but have no idea as to what to buy, just walk around the place (careful! it is cluttered) and you are bound to find something that’s “just right”. In addition, Donna goes out her way to promptly order items you need but she ran out of.

      Now that she sells hand sanitizer and plastic gloves, why not add cheeses, stationary bicycles, and TV sets? I would shop even more at that UWS gold mine.

    2. MAD says:

      3 cheers to Donna, her father, and the great staff. I’ve been going to this store for years. After all, where else can you buy 2 manila folders, one large padded envelope, and maybe some hand sanitizer? Keep on keepin’ on!

    3. Grace BrNdt says:

      Donna and her dad are great people. I have always loved seeing them when I went in there for stuff I could only find there. Going in that store is like shopping in a small town favorite store. They know my face, and I know theirs. We greet each other like old friends. I have now moved out of the city. But a big hug and hello to Donna snd her dad.

    4. Lauren says:

      So glad to hear this store has weathered this “storm” as well!
      When my boys were young I was in here several times a week for one thing or another. I learned the value of this kind of neighborhood store when my first son was maybe 4 years old in the late 90’s (pre-Amazon, google etc).He wanted a very particular LEGO set and I had gone all over the city looking for it including FAO Schwartz which had a big LEGO section in those days. Of course in the end I found it at Stationery and Toy, 3 blocks from my house. At the time I told this story to a friend who said, “of course. A store like that understands what it’s local customers want”.

    5. Stationery and Toy World has NEVER failed me! If they don’t have something I am looking for, they order it. The intelligent care in Donna’s selection process is evident everywhere. Live long and prosper!!

    6. jules says:

      Staff are really nice and very helpful. It’s a terrific place to buy so many great things!!

    7. Kathy says:

      So relieved and happy that she’s still there. Her shop is the best go-to for last minute anything – toys to envelopes; and her prices are fine. There was a late lamented time when every neighborhood had a store like this one.

    8. Alan says:

      What a great store. We’ve been getting all our stationary supplies there for years. A very local store we love to support.

    9. Trying says:

      Thank you WSR for this article. I am happy to see neighborhood treasures surviving!

    10. BronxBoy says:

      I’ve been shopping there for decades. I’ll never order any stationery or related items online without first checking to see if they stock them. I’ll gladly pay a little more to be able to run out and pick up items that I need right away — Amazon still can’t deliver an ink cartridge within 10 minutes.

      Plus, it’s a fun place to browse.

    11. Claire Koppelman says:

      Donna is a remarkable owner, because she and her entire staff, understand that service is important. There are no weak links in that store. You can describe an art project or science project and within minutes they put together all the materials that you need. They all have such grace and know the inventory and how to find everything easily. The toys and holiday gift selection this year is especially well stocked. The best jigsaw puzzles, games and wonderful thoughtful items are stocked. So thankful they are in our neighborhood. I get my calendars there every year, beautiful ones for business and gifts.

    12. Jeff says:

      It was kind of surreal early in the pandemic when this toy store was one of the only places open on 72nd Street. It was also a great escape from bleak reality during the darkest hours of April.

      Fantastic spot!

    13. West Side Kids says:

      Donna is a rock star!!!

    14. Lese says:

      Donna and her dad and her staff are deeply wonderful people. They have so much love and devotion for their customers, and set a beautiful example of success on all levels. Stationery & Toy World is legendary. Everything they sell is awesome too!

    15. Sam Katz says:

      I was in the other day, stocking up on my crafting supplies, and I’m a big kid — 65 years old. Terrific family run business, cram packed with stuff. A great benefit to a neighborhood over run with soulless, national, chain stores. I hope they stay forever.

    16. Diane Booth says:

      So glad to see this wonderful oasis given tribute.Have shopped there since the beginning. Always find what I need…love being there.

    17. UWSSurfer says:

      Stationery & Toy World is one of my favorite
      shops. What could be better than combining toys and colorful stationery?

      I love Donna and her dad, Larry.
      Their sales associates are the nicest guys. They are very attentive, know their stock, and give great suggestions for toys as gifts.

      I saw Larry interviewed on the news after Hurricane Sandy. It was heart-breaking.
      Donna filled me in on everything her family lost in the hurricane including their warehouse and inventory plus damage to the family homes.

      Now, Donna has to keep her business going during a pandemic! We can’t lose this wonderful store!

    18. Jed says:

      Just went here (thanks to this article!) and stocked up on wrapping paper, stocking stuffers, and gifts. What a great place! If you’re looking for gifts for kids, best to come here before clicking on Amazon – they have tons of toys and games for every taste. Shop local!

    19. Judi D. says:

      I am forever grateful to this store! In the midst of the pandemic they did deliveries, hand sanitizer and masks, when I was basically paralyzed and afraid to go out. One of the employees also mailed some masks to my daughter up at school. What a treasure! ❤️❤️❤️