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South Florida toy stores getting creative to survive

Posted at 3:19 PM, Mar 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-16 15:19:19-04

Once Toys R Us closes its doors there will only be a couple of toy stores for children remaining in Palm Beach County. 

Store owners of Learning Express and Whatchamacallit's agree, we live in a digital age where you can get toys delivered to your doorstep with a click of a button. But the two store owners say to keep up with big box retailers and online stores they've made it their mission to offer a complete experience.

At Learning Express it's all about the details. The toys are wrapped to perfection.  

"We're in the business of making kids happy," said owner Jim Arpe.

For 19 years he's owned Learning Express located in Palm Beach Gardens and in those years he's seen similar businesses close up shop; but for him that's not an option.

"What keeps me in the business? Well I'm 76-years-old. At this point, it's my social life I don't play golf (laughs)."

Jokes aside Arpe admits the business of selling toys has changed.

"Toy specialty stores are struggling to compete against the lower-priced big box, the Walmart, Target and Amazon-type stores," he said.

To keep up his store offers free gift wrapping, shipping and customization. He's even considering adding an activity area for kids to play in the store and his customers say they notice his efforts.

"Every time I leave here seriously I'm delighted I came in because I'm so perplexed before trying to figure out what to get," one customer said.

About 20 miles away on Palm Beach you'll find another toy store with a similar business model.

"We are a specially toy store so we try to carry things that the big box stores don't carry," Cindy Cook said.

Cook is the owner of Whatchamacallit. Unlike Arpe she's only been in business three years. But in that time she says buying unique toys and good customer service has kept her business afloat.

"When the grandparents and the parents come back from being away in the summer they're so happy we're still here so hopefully we will be here for a while," she said. 

Cook says her hope is that other entrepreneurs will open up specialty toy stores in the future.