Bay Area toy stores offer alternative to internet

ByRenee Koury KGO logo
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Bay Area toy stores offer alternative to internet
Yes, it's the first holiday season in 60 years without the iconic Toys R Us superstore for all things made for fun,

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Yes, it's the first holiday season in 60 years without the iconic Toys R Us superstore for all things made for fun. The Toy Association says we will buy about 40 percent of our toys online-- but we still crave the old-fashioned, festive tradition of seeing those winking, blinking toys and trains set up in the stores.

"Everyone still has that memory, like in (the movie) 'The Christmas Story' with Ralphie pressing his nose against the store window, wishing for the Red Ryder air rifle,'' Toy Association CEO Steve Pasierb said. "For sure we can shop online but we know that toys are a kind of touch, feel purchase. You want to go in and have that toy experience."

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Pasierb says many stores are stepping up to fill the gap left by Toys R Us -- where we bought $3 billion worth of toys every year until they closed in June. Many retailers have added or expanded their toy aisles. Target, Walmart and even many grocery stores have shelves of toys stocked for the holidays. Party City turned its Halloween pop-up stores into toy stores for the season. However, Pasierb says, those retailers can't duplicate the selection and experience of a full-fledged toy store.

"While more retailers are offering toys this year, we're not sure of the depth and breadth of their selections,'' Pasierb said. "A lot of retailers won't take the risk and buy super amounts of stock-- simply because they didn't want to take the risk of having too much stock and being stuck with it after the holidays. So, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we might see a shortage of toys."

Pasierb said a team of analysts scoured retail stores and found many empty shelves. However, he says, local toy stores are taking advantage of the gap in the market to rejuvenate their businesses.

"We encourage kids, and adults, to come in and play with our toys,'' said Matthew Luhn, co-owner of Jeffrey's Toys in San Francisco, the oldest toy store in the city. His great-grandparents opened it as "Birdie's Toys" back in 1953. A decade later it became Jeffrey's.

"People still want to come into a store. They want to touch the toys, they want to see the toys, they want to get the advice of people who work here,'' Luhn said. "People long for the experience."

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Jeffrey's is the kind of place where customers can walk in and smell popcorn bursting in the old-fashioned popper, and munch on a bag while shopping. A dozen or so staffers offer to help find or suggest the perfect toy. A wooden train is set up for play. Luhn says Financial District workers come in at lunch to throw around a Nerf ball. Though smaller than an average Toys R Us, the store is stocked with thousands of toys, ranging from stuffed animals to hand-held electronics and vintage comic books. Boxes in back are stuffed with more toys to refill shelves as toys sell out.

"When Toys R Us closed I was so sad,'' shopper Toni Estacio said. "But then I saw this store was open and it was the oldest one in San Francisco-- so I had to stop in." She selected a Barbie doll and light-up race car.

"Oh, she's so helpful!" said Sophie R, who was buying toys for the children of a homeless family. Store co-owner Rosie Luhn helped select toys sure to please.

"The children will love this,'' Rosie Luhn said, showing her a set of balls that light up when shaken. She also chose Lego sets and jigsaw puzzles, then wrapped everything in holiday paper, for free.

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Matthew Luhn said the store has easily doubled its business since Toys R Us closed. Jeffrey's isn't the only one to thrive. Dozens of Bay Area independent toy stores are open and bustling over the holiday. find one near you, check out our list.

Take a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Sidehere.

Bay Area Toy Stores

The LEGO Store

Retailer showcasing the brand's colorful building sets & bricks, plus figurines & toys.

Westfield San Francisco Centre

San Francisco, CA

(415) 778-2827

Toy Safari

Longtime retailer offering a huge inventory of arts & crafts, games, puzzles, action figures & more.

Alameda, CA

(510) 522-1723

A Child's Delight

Toy store offering imaginative play items for children plus games, clothing & furniture.

The Village at Corte Madera

Corte Madera, CA

(415) 945-9221

Ying Hobbies & Toys

Hobby shop specializing in eclectic model toy sets, especially anime-inspired action figures.

San Francisco, CA

(415) 986-6787

Kimono My House

Collectibles store featuring a wide array of science-fiction & Japanese anime toys, pins & apparel.

Emeryville, CA

(510) 654-4627

Talbot's Toyland

Long-running purveyor of all manner of indoor & outdoor toys, dolls, hobby supplies & kids' bikes.

San Mateo, CA

(650) 931-8100

Woot Bear

Limited-edition, indie artist toys & gifts, plus apparel & accessories, in minimalist surrounds.

San Francisco, CA

(415) 487-9000

Japan Town Collectibles

Shopping mall resource for Japanese toys, models, figurines, gifts & other collectible items.

San Francisco, CA

(415) 563-2970

Mr Mopps' Children's Books and Toys

This colorful shop carries creative toys & games, plus books for kids from toddlers to teens.

Berkeley, CA

(510) 525-9633

Disney Store

Disney retail chain featuring official character toys, clothes, collectibles & more.

San Francisco, CA

(415) 283-0245

Disney Store

Disney retail chain featuring official character toys, clothes, collectibles & more.

Serramonte Center

Daly City, CA

(650) 991-7104

Jeffrey's Toys

Celebrated kids' shop providing educational & imaginative wooden toys, games & crafting supplies.

San Francisco, CA

(415) 291-8697

Ambassador Toys

Compact toy retailer stocks a wide selection of toys, art supplies & educational products for kids.

Embarcadero Center

San Francisco, CA

(415) 345-8697

The LEGO Store

Retailer showcasing the brand's colorful building sets & bricks, plus figurines & toys.

Hillsdale Shopping Center

San Mateo, CA

(650) 571-9020

Five Little Monkeys

Creative & educational toys, books & craft kits are the specialty of this bright, spacious shop.

Albany, CA

(510) 528-4411

Adventure Toys & Learning

Oakland, CA

(510) 452-6470

Reach and Teach Books, Toys, and Gifts

Toys, books, posters & music promoting nonviolence along with social, race & gender equality.

San Mateo, CA

(650) 759-3784

Mapamundi Kids

Sustainable-minded boutique offering high-design clothing, shoes & toys for babies to toddlers.

San Francisco, CA

(415) 641-6192

Comix Experience Outpost

Small comics shop offering a deep selection of both current & back issues plus a kids' section.

San Francisco, CA

(415) 239-2669

Montclair Toyhouse

Long-standing, independently owned toy store stocking all manner of games & novelties for many ages.

Oakland, CA

(510) 339-9023