After hundreds of play dates and arts and craft afternoons, Learning Sprout Toys in downtown Tacoma is closing its doors.
In the store’s 21 years on Pacific Avenue, former manager Angel Calvin said she and the owners saw families growing up as they came through their doors again and again.
Customers were like “an extended family,” Calvin said, “But you can’t do something forever when it doesn’t have the means to support itself, I guess.”
Change has taken its toll on the independent toy seller, she said. As people buy more and more of their goods through online portals, such as Amazon or at deep discounters like Walmart, fewer customers would seek them out.
Then, construction along Pacific Avenue a few years back threw a wrench into the store’s books. When the street opened again, customers had a hard time with the new back-in, angle parking, she said.
“In 2012 or 2013, that was our last good year,” Calvin said. “We stopped bringing in a profit. … We thought people buying online would dwindle. We were hoping we would pull through, and we didn’t.”
Calvin said she will remember one event, a Fancy Nancy tea party, that drew more than 350 people in a weekend.
“It was so nice because we had three generations of people in a family sitting down — grandma and mom and all of the kids. That’s really special,” she said.
The store is owned by her mother-in-law, Rose Calvin, who runs several day care establishments.
Learning Sprout Toys had a relationship with another independent toy seller, Teaching Toys and Books in the Proctor District. Business co-owner Valla Wagner said when her store was out of a toy that a customer wanted, she would call Learning Sprout. Calvin said she would do the same.
“There is a sense of cooperation in knowing everyone working together will help each other survive,” Wagner said. “We were shocked when we heard she was closing.”
Wagner and Calvin said Learning Sprout Toys used to sell school supplies for teachers. That source of income dried up as school districts tightened their budgets and state funding didn’t keep up with the costs of education, Wagner said.
“She bought more classic toys and became more of a multipurpose, education and fun kind of toy store,” Wagner said. “She always bounced back and always evolved as things shifted.”
Independent toy sellers all over the country are having to shift as Amazon cuts into their business, Wagner said.
“There’s no way to beat Amazon at what Amazon does,” Wagner said.
But independent toy sellers are experts in their craft, she said.
“You get to know the family. And you get to know what they like and celebrate their birthdays with them,” Wagner said. “There’s a human element that people long for and miss when all they have is a computer screen they are interacting with.”
Learning Sprout Toys is having a 25 percent off sale on most of its products, Calvin said. It’s open only on Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. When the toys dwindle, even the fixtures will be for sale.
Learning Sprout’s two-story building, at 809 Pacific Ave., also is for sale and is listed for nearly $900,000 according to one real estate website.