Locally-owned Austin toy stores go unique, fare better than Toys-R-Us

The toy retailer has more than 1,500 stores in the U.S. and though it plans to keep stores open, many other retailers such as JC Penney, Macy's and Gap have been forced to close stores.

AUSTIN - Toy giant Toys-R-Us filed for bankruptcy protection Monday night. It's the latest in a long line of retailers to make changes to its business model.

But the trend doesn't seem to be effecting some locally-owned businesses in Austin, who are keeping their business unique.

Dolls to Darth Vader, horses to hula hoops, the shelves in Terra Toys are full of timeless toys.

General Manager Sylvia Edwards said the business was formed by her parents in 1978, when her dad made the toys out of wood and her mother hand painted them.

Still to this day, she said the toys they put in the stores are classic, fun and beautiful.

"Trends will emerge, but just as they will emerge, they will go away, and so instead of being left with some trendy items that might not sell as quickly next year, we like to stay true to a consistent buying idea,” said Edwards. "For a 2-year-old, everything is new, you know. A spinning top is just as novel to a 2-year-old as it was 100 years ago."

Edwards said she's sad to hear about Toys-R-Us filing for bankruptcy, but isn't surprised.

"If you're going to go to a chain store, because of their loyalty to trends, you can't always rely on that product staying there,” said Edwards. "I think the consistency is what's kept our customers you know being able to rely on us."

While she said internet sales have affected some stores, she doesn't feel that's the only problem in this case.

"You have to be really weary of the investors' bottom line, their intentions,” said Edwards. "I think that we have been hit by internet sales but we also take really cautious care in the running of our company because we're the owners."

But she also encourages people to shop in their community’s brick and mortar store.

"When you go to an online store, you're depriving your community of that money,” said Edwards. "I think the consumers really should realize their dollar is a vote, every dollar you spend is a vote towards what you're going to keep in business."

Just down the street, they have a different idea all together: Rent toys instead of buy.

Liza Wilson owns Toybrary Austin, where parents can rent three toys at a time for children 6-months to 5-years-old with a monthly membership.

They also get play time at the facility.

Non-members can play all day for $7.

"They come here and then they don't have to buy, sell, collect, or anything like that, they just, the kid gets tired of the toys, they come back and get something new,” said Wilson.

Mom Sunny Castillo has a 7-year-old and uses the service. 

"This way you can just try it out, if you don't play with it, bring it back -- we'll try something different, play with it, bring it back,” said Castillo.

Wilson said it saves resources.

"People should be sharing resources including toys, instead of buying and things going into the landfill,” said Wilson. "They get tired of things really fast, so there's no reason, you may buy them something that they don't like at all, or they may like it for 30 minutes, or they may like it for a day, a week, then it's done."

"He's got toys under his bed, and everywhere, so having a place where he can come and play and get fresh toys and new things without us having to clutter our house, and without us having to spend money on new things, it's fantastic,” said Castillo.

Castillo currently teaches pre-school, and Wilson is a former teacher. The service is also open and available to teachers for their classroom.

"You know, from a teacher's perspective, you're always just trying to do as best you can on a budget,” said Castillo. "Any unit I'm doing, any new thing I want to teach, there's always something here that I can check out.”

"It's definitely wholesome, old school kind of toys that kids still like, as opposed to things that light up and have batteries and generally are distractions rather than learning opportunities,” said Wilson.

They also say fewer toys can help boost brain activity.

"They would rather not have so many toys, and really for a developing child's brain, it's best to have fewer toys the research says they can only focus on 7 toys at a time, so if you've got 200 you're really just cluttering your home and their brains,” said Wilson.

Wilson even encourages parents to rest while they’re at Toybrary.

"A lot of times I encourage, especially moms to go ahead and take a nap while they're here,” said Wilson.

They  weren't surprised to hear the news about Toys-R-Us either.

"It doesn't surprise me, really, I feel like parents these days are becoming more resourceful,” said Castillo.

Resources that toy store owners in Austin will continue to make unique, and hope to offer for future generations.

"Most toy stores are resilient because children keep being born,” said Edwards.

According to NPD, a global market research group, the toy industry will grow 4.5 percent in the U.S. by the end of the year. They said the biggest growth category so far is games and puzzles, with adult games growing the fastest.

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