Small toy stores fear they won’t stay in business after this year – WISH-TV | Indianapolis News | Indiana Weather forecast

(CNN) — The winter holidays are usually the busiest and most successful time of year for Erin Blanton, owner of the Pufferbellies toy store in Staunton, Va.

About a quarter of Pufferbellies’ annual sales are between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when shoppers, she said, “come out of the woodwork” to buy Legossnowballs, puzzlesplaying cards, stuffed animals and other gifts for their family and friends.

But Blanton, who runs the store with her mother and has five employees, is more concerned about this holiday season than she has ever been in Pufferbellies’ 15 years in business.

Sales are limited by restrictions on the number of customers allowed in his 1,900 square foot store at a time during the pandemic – Blanton puts a flamingo outside the store when it is at capacity. Pufferbellies cannot hold holiday events in the store this year, a key sales driver, and some of its suppliers tell it they are running into delays because they cannot staff their own warehouses at usual levels. Before the pandemic, Pufferbellies had play tables and toys made available to children, but these are now hidden away.

Pandemic restrictions have taken their toll on small toy retailers because ‘they just don’t have room to have people in [stores] with six feet of social distancing,” said Sue Warfield, interim president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, which represents more than 1,800 independent retailers and manufacturers in the toy industry.

Pufferbellies also had to manage rising costs related to the coronavirus, including installing plexiglass barriers at cash registers, purchasing additional hand sanitizer and hiring an employee to enforce customer limits in the shop.

And then there is increasing competition from Amazon and major chains such as Walmart, Target, Costco. These businesses have remained open throughout the pandemic, even as small toy stores were forced to close in the spring.

“I don’t have the tech resources of department stores or Amazon,” Blanton said. “I don’t have the ability to make a super easy to use app. We don’t have an IT department. We don’t have a delivery company. Our website is a bit clunky.

As small toy stores like Pufferbellies struggle to stay afloat during the pandemic, sales at Amazon and big chains have surged as shoppers head to the internet and consolidate their store visits. Analysts are predicting a bumper holiday season for these companies.

On the other hand, the situation is particularly dire for independent toy retailers. Sales at toy, hobby and game stores fell 26% between mid-March, when the closings began, and late October compared to the same period last year, according to data from Womply, a company that provides software platforms for small businesses and tracks sales through credit and debit card transactions.

The difficulties of small toy stores came even as toy sales rose 19% through September, according to market research firm NPD Group. Toys and puzzles are in high demand as parents and children spend more time at home and seek ways to keep themselves entertained during the pandemic. But the benefits go to Amazon and the big-box chains.

Stephanie Wissink, a retail analyst who covers the toy industry at Jefferies, points out that young parents who buy toys for their children today “grew up in a world where everything is available to them” on Amazon.

Moreover, the toys r us filing for bankruptcy in 2017 and Closure of CAM Schwarz pushed Amazon and the big-box chains to build up their toy inventories to try to take market share from those companies.

“It was like confetti in the air,” Wissink said.

This holiday season is expected to widen the gap between big chains and smaller toy stores, retail experts say.

Nearly half of the 1,800 independent toy and gift shop owners surveyed between September 19 and October 27 by Alignable, a small social networking company, say they fear they won’t earn enough this shopping season. parties to stay in business beyond this year. Another 36% of respondents said they would earn just enough this holiday season to get by.

Elle Dare, who runs Genuine Toy Company, a toy store in Plymouth, Michigan that has a retro vibe and plays theme songs from old TV shows like “Leave it to Beaver” and “Saved by the Bell” , hopes to bring in enough cash this holiday to pay her suppliers and pay her rent.

“If we can just pay the bills, I think we can get by,” she said. But Dare worries about ordering too many toys over the holidays and holding onto leftover stock. It is also preparing for new restrictions on retailers since the recent spike in coronavirus caseswhich would hurt sales and make it impossible to pay its suppliers.

She remains hopeful that the struggles of independent stores like Genuine Toy Company in the pandemic will inspire shoppers to buy local this holiday.

“People are realizing that if they want their local businesses to be there, they will have to support them, especially during difficult times.”