Editor’s note: This is a weekly series emphasizing the importance of buying local.
The days of spending a day at a local toy store seem long gone.
A pandemic and downtrodden economy, virtually working from home, and online shopping have diminished the need and popularity of the local toy store.
“We usually go to Target or order (toys) through Amazon,” said Jessica Schoss of Pittsburgh, who is always on the hunt for toys for her 2-year-old son, Emmitt. “Ordering through Amazon is cheaper and the target price matches.”
Schoss said children today are deceived by trips to toy stores and the fun and joy they can bring.
“I remember going to toy stores,” she said. “It was a fun day. There is no such thing anymore.
One store where the excitement remains is SW Randall, which has three locations – downtown Pittsburgh, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill.
The store celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Owner Jack Cohen said that although times have changed, the excitement and fun of shopping – or just looking – at a toy store can lift your spirits.
“I think most customers come in for something or just to look around,” Cohen said. “I think being here puts a customer in a good mood and a smile on their face. It always makes me feel good.
“Unlike buying online, the customer can actually touch and feel the toy. You know exactly how big or how small it is. You don’t get that with online shopping.
Cohen said SW Randall offers online shopping.
“We just have to compete,” he said. “Nowadays we have to sell online in addition to stores.”
In addition to Amazon, toy shoppers in the area turn to Learning Express in the Galleria du Mont Liban and Toy Land in the Ross Park mall.
Schoss said the Disney Store in the South Hills Village mall is another option for toys.
“They have a decent selection,” Schoss said. “But the store was only recently opened. They have nice toys.
Cohen said SW Randall has seen a huge drop in walk-in customers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As many now work remotely, the number of customers walking around to look around during lunch breaks has decreased.
SW Randall has long thrived selling hand-held type toys such as puzzles, games, action figures and other unique offerings.
The store continues to offer collectibles and train cars.
“We always do well with that,” Cohen said. “The pandemic has hurt. People are not working in their offices and some are no longer working. This has significantly reduced our traffic.
“We are in survival mode right now. We appreciate everyone who walks through our door. It’s just a different matter now. We do a little of this and a little of that. There are no more “hot toys”. Those days are over.
Cohen said he continues to offer retired pieces and other collectibles that may be “hard to find.”
Buying toys will become more popular over the next few months as shoppers begin their Christmas shopping.
Cohen said in-store traffic will increase.
“There will be more people coming for Christmas,” Cohen said. “What disappeared were the office workers who came in and walked around the premises once a week.
“We receive the newest products every year. But we stick to our basics and what has been popular in the past.
“It’s not the same anymore, but it’s still nice to go to a toy store and lift your spirits.”
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