We’re nearing the end of an era. The era of a wide variety of quality products; a friendly staff offering personal service and free gift wrapping; a trusted place to go for a gift for any child. Justin’s Toys, which opened on Forest Avenue in Glen Cove in the spring of 2012, will close its doors at the end of February, an announcement that shocked the community that has supported it over the past nearly seven years. For the store’s owners, however, the decision was not made suddenly, but rather based on the industry’s trends.
“As a toy store owner, I track trends and I can’t ignore the obvious fact that everyone is moving toward online shopping,” said Rob Lee. “Last year, our inventory was the best it’s ever been. I believe we have the best staff, but despite all that our business decreased.”
Based on this trend and the circumstances, he said, “There’s no way our business is going to grow…I can’t sit here and watch it continue to dwindle.”
The best thing he can do for his psyche, he said, is to get out before it gets worse.
For six years, Justin’s Toys grew. But last year, after “doing everything right,” they didn’t enjoy the same growth, which Lee says is an indication of the downward trend.
“All of our expenses are up, everything is against us,” he said. “And these are not factors we can control.”
And he said the trend is not a local one, or a problem particular to toy stores, but to retail in general. The nature of the industry and society is going toward online purchasing, without the hassle of going to a store and being able to have it the next day.
“Specialty retail and retail in general is a dying breed,” Lee said. “The only retailers that can survive are the big box stores that offer one-stop shopping.”
Lee wrote an essay titled “The Dark Side Of The Toy Industry” in which he details the difficulties small businesses face by trying to compete with larger stores and online vendors that can offer products at a lower price, heightened by consumers’ obsession with online video reviewers that are often paid to market toys that are then sold exclusively to the big box retailers. These factors make it difficult for smaller stores to price match many products and impossible to even get some of the popular toys.
When he opened Justin’s Toys, Lee was no stranger to retail: he owned two businesses previously, but the toy business was new. He said he felt the area had a void with the loss of KB Toy Store, a place he frequented as a child. Even then, he saw the red flags when people questioned his decision to open a store during a time when retail was starting to feel the effects of online shopping. Still, by keeping his inventory fresh, offering personal service and providing a niche to a community that regularly shops for toys, the store has become a staple for every child, parent, grandparent or general toy lover in the community. That support kept the store going, but still is not enough.
The announcement was made on New Year’s Eve day, followed by a short store closing during the week. When Justin’s reopened on Friday, Jan. 4, dozens of people expressed their shock, and by Sunday afternoon, Lee said he was exhausted from having to explain his decision to customers, stressing again that the problem is not singular to Glen Cove.
“It’s sad, and we’re an emotional wreck right now. We’ve enjoyed watching all these kids grow up,” he said. “The most upsetting thing is, now they won’t have any specialty toy store to visit and see the toys that are available.”
The trend in the industry, he said, is limiting consumers’ freedom of choice by limiting the selection. Customer service is being replaced by video reviews and customer reviews on Amazon that could be fake.
“I can’t ignore the fact that online is going to kill everyone,” said Lee. “I hope that I’m wrong, but the numbers don’t lie.”
Justin’s Toys will be open until Feb. 28. Starting Jan. 15, all inventory will be 20 percent off. Visit www.justinstoys.com or find them on Facebook for more details.