LEAWOOD, Kan. — U.S. Toy is a third-generation toy store, headquartered in Grandview. And it’s been a destination for generations of children in the metro and Midwest. It hopes to stay that way by changing.
It’s a sight many in Kansas City have experienced walking in the doors and down that ramp into U.S. Toy. Currently, the only U.S. Toy location in the metro is at 103rd and State Line in Leawood, Kansas.
“I grew up coming here as a kid,” Catherine Simanis said. She had a cart ready for the toys her eight year old son and nine year old niece would find just like she did years ago.
But at every aisle, in addition to toys and the occasional empty shelf, are signs: 25 percent off, Moving Sale, New Location. Those signs herald a change.
Some of those signs brought the Simanis family in. “We thought hey, let`s stop by US toy, because they`re moving and having a big sale!”
“I would be really sad not to come to U.S. Toy.”
With a sale this big, the registers just keep ringing.
A few miles away, some of those toys end up on tables at Pump It Up. The business offers inflatable jungle gyms and games for children, and is busy with birthday parties every weekend.
Leigh Martens is at Pump It Up for her son’s sixth birthday. “This is our second birthday here, actually,” she said.
“We chose Pump It Up because they take care of everything for you,” she added. “I don`t have to clean my house, I don`t have to cook food, I don`t have to host!”
“I get to play with my kid during his birthday. You can`t buy this on Amazon. It`s an experience, and the kids love it, and they love to be together.”
That is exactly what Seth Freiden wanted to hear. “We wanted to Amazon-Proof our store,” he said. “As we see retail`s changing, we have to change too.”
Freiden owns U.S. Toy, Constructive Playthings, and Pump It Up. Pump It Up was a recent acquisition. U.S Toy and Constructive Playthings were founded by his grandparents.
He’s the third generation family owner of the business, and he knows the current state of the toy industry. “Most retailers, like Toys R Us, they`re huge and they couldn’t survive it.”
So, in an effort to as he said, Amazon-Proof his business – he’s combining his two companies under one roof.
“Where can they get all their birthday gifts and have a party all at the same time in one place? Let’s make it easy for them.”
In May, both businesses will move. “So we found a nice location,” Freiden said. “It’s at 119th and Metcalf, so right next to Burlington in front of Costco.” The storefront will hold U.S Toy and Pump It Up. It will host sidewalk sales, and hopefully, grow into something greater.
But it will also stay true to what’s made it appeal to so many people for 66 years. Freiden’s gramdmother founded Constructive Playthings, because the pre-school teacher couldn’t find toys that she needed in her classroom. True to his grandmother’s vision, Freiden will not sell electronics or video games. The focus continues to be on education.
“We have a different niche,” Freiden said. “We have parents and teachers and we also have our costume and magic shop, so we get that Halloween business.”
If his business plan works, Freiden has big goals. He would like to expand U.S. Toy and Pump It Up into the Lee’s Summit area, and the Northland. He would like to offer online gift registries for birthday parties; families could come in 30 minutes before a party and buy a gift from U.S. Toy, then have it wrapped while the child plays at the party. By the time the cake is cut, the gift would be waiting to be unwrapped.
But first, Freiden has to make it to May. “My job,” he said, “is to steward this into the next 66 years, not to look back on where we’ve been, but where we`re going for the next 66 years.”