From 2012, Linda and Barry Schwartz pose in their store, Try & Buy Toys in Pleasantville.
Though there is a lot of buzz around the “shop local” trend, and events like American Express’ Small Business Saturday seem to be gaining traction, the hard truth for mom-and-pop retailers in Westchester and across the country is that it’s harder than ever to suceed as a small business in today’s competitive retail environment. The recent announcement by Linda and Barry Schwartz that they are closing their popular Pleasantville shop Try & Buy Toys, after 23-years as owners, poignantly exemplifies all of those challenges.
In a surprisingly candid email to customers on Wednesday night, the Schwartzes wrote, “It is with great sadness that we announce the closing of Try & Buy Toy Stores… As you can imagine, this has been a very difficult decision to make after 40 years in business.” The email, which they sent “to educate [customers] about some of the factors that have contributed to our lack of ability to survive,” reads like a laundry list of all-too-common small business woes.
The husband-and-wife team was planning to retire, and had found a suitable buyer. But, they say, the landlord of their Pleasantville building stalled for four months and then was only willing to offer them a maximum two-year lease—too short of a commitment to risk, in their opinion, because of the large inventory investment required to fill the 5,000 square-foot store. So, they write, “The biggest investment of our life no longer has value because it is now unsaleable.”
The controversial new chip-enabled credit cards that are fast becoming a global standard also played a role in Try & Buy’s demise. Because the store’s current computers and point-of-purchase software aren’t set up to accept the new chip technology, the upgrade would have cost the Schwartzes roughly $40,000 to $50,000. “This is an investment we would never get back,” they say.
But declining sales—thanks to a double-whammy of Internet competition and a shift in buying patterns away from toys and toward technology and gadgets—was the biggest culprit in the store’s downfall. Internet shopping has surged, of course, and it’s increasingly hard for local stores like Try & Buy to compete on price and selection with specialized online stores and giant e-tailers. “Daily, we have people who come to the store, utilize the help of our staff, get to touch and feel the toys, and then order them while standing in our store on Amazon,” the email reads.
Also, according to Barry and Linda, “toys are losing their importance in our society. Children and their parents are enthralled with technology and screens and choose that over traditional toys. The age with which children play with toys is continually decreasing.”
The inability to rise above these challenges has forced the owners’ decision to shut the doors for good by December 24, or earlier, they say, if the store runs out of merchandise. At press time, the store was offering 30 percent off all purchases, and 20 percent off LEGO products.
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Sadly, given the state of the current retail market, this will not likely be the last time a Westchester mom-and-pop retailer is forced to make a similar decision.