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.
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.