NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In the age of online shopping, Nashville’s surviving toy stores are staying in business by offering something major online retailers often don’t: a chance for families to make memories and for adults to relive some of their childhood.
“They come in and they just have a ball, I mean, they just go back to their childhood, they spend time with their kids, they have a million things to talk about,” said Phillips Toy Mart co-owner Cynthia Phillips-Strinich.
Phillips-Strinich says the Belle Meade toy store has been around since the 1940s in one form or another and has remained a family business.
“I’m sure we are on our 4th generation [of shoppers],” she said.
She says every child needs and loves to play, so she has her toy store set up to maximize a child’s ability to touch and try everything. In fact, there isn’t a screen or “smart device” in the store.
“Electronics change too fast,” she said. “Honestly, we just don’t have the capability to keep up with that and keep up with the big stores that specialize in it. So, let them have it.”
According to the National Retail Federation, the consistent flow of customers Phillips has been seeing this holiday season is in line with national trends.
The group’s survey found 67% of Black Friday shoppers planned to head to brick-and-mortar stores, which is a 3% increase from 2021. In addition, 22% of holiday shoppers said they were going shipping because it is “something to do” over the holiday, which is a good sign for stores like Phillips’ that try to create experiences for customers and turn them on to products they wouldn’t have thought of on their own.
Pew Research also found that 57% of U.S. adults would shop in a physical store if given a choice.
However, Phillips-Strinich says the internet is good for business in some ways.
“So [customers] look up online, ‘where’s a toy store?’ and we pop up and they come in and they go, ‘wow there is nothing like this in California,’ or ‘there’s nothing like this in…’ wherever they come from,” she said.
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Over in South Nashville, Totally Rad Toyhouse takes a similar approach but with more of a focus on adults who are still kids at heart.
“We do like to focus on our retro toys compared to new toys because you can get new toys from Amazon, Walmart, Target,” said Totally Rad co-owner LJ Landrum.
Her store is also online, but she tries to keep the in-store experience personal with a large selection of collector’s items, her expertise, and 90s flair that lets customers take a trip down memory lane.
But while adults and collectors are their core consumers, she loves to see family trips to the toy store.
“It’s amazing to see some kids like 9 or 10 years old wanting vintage He-man or GI Joe, they don’t want the new stuff they want the old stuff,” she said.
Both these owners say the past couple of years have been tough, but their customers have remained loyal and everyone needs time to play and be a kid.