ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — The holidays are just weeks away and shoppers are working to mark off those on their list. Some shoppers may be buying toys this year and local toy store owners are asking for their support as they struggle to survive the pandemic.
Earlier this year, many local toy stores had to shut down for weeks due to the pandemic. Since opening, business has been hard to come by.
"It's trying to find new customers. That's the biggest challenge and it always has been," said Sue Warfield. "Nobody's having it easy right now."
Warfield is the interim president for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association or ASTRA. She said ASTRA represents more than 700 independent retail organizations. She said owners are doing what they can to make ends meet. Many are using the pandemic as an opportunity to upgrade their website and offer services they didn't have before the pandemic began.
“This is their livelihood. This is their job, it’s not like they have another job," Warfield said. “The retailers that have understood that and worked to develop that more have actually, I wouldn’t say thrived more than before, but they’ve survived and are seeing new business they didn’t have before.”
In Rocky River, Jack Seelie is seeing success after reopening Once Upon a Time Toys earlier this year. Seelie said some days are better than others but they have their share of slow days as well.
The store, located on the corner of Wright Ave. and Detroit Rd., is a staple of the community. Seelie doing business with customers at the corner store since 1988.
Seelie said his customer base now spans three generations. Parents are now bringing in their little ones reminiscing about visits during their childhood.
"We have fabulous customers," he said.
He believes big box stores and online shopping have their place, however, he said nothing beats supporting a local business and is confident his customers get it. He said they don't want to see owners go out of business, forced to board up their front windows.
“I take pride in carrying toys that you can’t buy at a big box store," Seelie said. "That’s the way towns are going to look. All of em, boarded up storefronts and nobody wants to live in that world.”
To stay afloat, Seelie said he's going to continue providing what people want - a memorable experience.
“That makes it preferable to come out. To see the toys in person, touch them," he said. "[The customers] appreciate the personal service. We offer things you can't get at a big box store."