By Maria Halkias
The Dallas Morning News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneur Candace Williams shares how her community rallied around her after devastating tornadoes tore through Dallas right before the Christmas season.
The holiday season looked pretty dire for The Toy Maven in late October, but there’s a happy ending to this Christmas shopping story.
Dallas residents inspired by more than billion worth of tornado damage across homes, schools and businesses did their part to keep a local business alive.
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“It was such an incredible response from our customers,” said Toy Maven owner Candace Williams. “So many people came to find us.”
Williams said her store’s sales are down only 7% this year, a number that’s not good, but could have been much worse. It also compares favorably to what she’s heard from her peers in other U.S. markets.
The Toy Maven, which also operates a store in Southlake, salvaged its biggest two months of the year after the devastating Oct. 20 tornadoes put holes in its roof at Preston Royal Village shopping center. The center was in the storm’s 15-mile path from northwest Dallas to Richardson where winds topped 140 mph.
“We saw customers that had never shopped with us before. They were from Oak Cliff, Richardson, Rowlett, Plano and Frisco,” she said.
They all told her the same thing: “We just wanted to support you and say thank you for not giving up,” Williams said.
Williams is planning a spring return to the location where she’s operated since 2005 on the northeast corner of Preston Road and Royal Lane. Several blocks of homes surrounding the area were destroyed.
“It’s already so hard to run a small business with Amazon,” said shopper Megan Solis, 33, of Dallas, who’s made a point of visiting the store. “We go to a lot of birthday parties and I always stop here on the way. They help me pick out a gift and wrap it. You can’t get that kind of service from Amazon and Target.”
It’s been a crazy nine and a half weeks for Williams. Her store was flooded just as it was fully stocked for the holiday shopping season and power was out to the shopping center for almost two weeks. Additional rains made it even worse.
On Nov. 8, Williams and her staff reopened in temporary space a few blocks north at Preston and Forest Lane.
Williams is still working with Preston Royal Village landlord Edens and the insurance company, but hopes to be back into her old space by April. Edens has to get the roof fixed before any remodeling can begin.
The silver lining is she’ll be able to redesign her space and she’s asking her customers for feedback.
“Everything is an opportunity to learn,” she said.
She’s been sharing experiences with toy stores in the San Francisco area, which have had to deal with chronic power outages related to California’s forest fires.
Even outside of disasters, other toy retailers nationwide are seeing considerable weakness in sales this year. Williams is part of a group of independent toy stores that regularly share trends and hold monthly conference calls.
The $28 billion a year U.S. toy business entered the holiday season without much momentum. Sales through September declined 5.5%, according to The NPD Group. Top brands in the fall quarter were L.O.L Surpise, Marvel Universe, Barbie, Pokemon and Nerf.
There wasn’t one big must-have toy this season. L.O.L Surprise has been around since 2016 and now has some copy cats in My Purse Surprise Doll Purse and Blume Doll. The season’s three big new family movies, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Frozen 2 and Toy Story 4, featured the same beloved characters already in many kids’ toy boxes.
NPD forecast toy sales would be up in the three-month period that includes the holidays, mainly because it would be compared to 2018 when Toys R Us closed 700 stores during the summer and sold off inventory. The Toys R Us brand is trying to make a comeback with former management using the name to open stores in Chicago and Houston with lots of toy experiences.
Last week, a new toy store called Camp opened in The Hill shopping center in Dallas at N. Central Expressway north of Walnut Hill Lane. It also focuses on experiences, such as a magic door in the main store that opens to a large play and shopping area designed as a summer camp setting. There’s also a Camp theater for sing-a-longs and other events, some that have entry fees. So far, Camp has opened additional stores in New York City and Connecticut.
Tiffany Markofsky Speyer, Camp’s chief marketing officer, said the store is designed for families to spend time together. Another one of the store’s revenue streams is sponsorships with local businesses. Simply Truth Organic snacks are free inside the camp and are sponsored by Kroger.
Dallas-based toymaker KidKraft is also a sponsor and its products are used in classes.
Williams is aware of her new competition in town and has been to a Camp store in New York. But she’s been occupied with more pressing issues and setting up The Toy Maven’s temporary space in a former real estate office.
Children who are regulars in her permanent location dart around to find their favorite toys.
“They are so excited to find where everything is,” Williams said. “And one promised she has several classmates ready to help us move back.”
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.