The lid is coming down on the Creative Kidstuff toybox.
The popular Twin Cities store, which for nearly 40 years sold toys to inspire and engage children’s creativity, on Wednesday joined the parade of specialty stores deciding to close amid pressure from competitors with lower costs. It immediately started liquidation sales at its six stores and will close each by June 30.
“It became time to make a choice — either become part of something bigger or close,” said Chief Executive Roberta Bonoff. “We decided it was time after 38 years.”
She added, “I want to thank the Twin Cities community for supporting Creative Kidstuff for so long.”
Big or small, specialty toy stores have struggled in recent years. The nation’s largest toy specialist, Toys ‘R’ Us, closed all of its 800 stores early last year. As a result, general retailers such as Target, Walmart and Kohl’s, and even electronics specialist Best Buy, pumped up their toy selection significantly during the last holiday season.
Other chains, including KB Toys and Zany Brainy locations, are gone. So are neighborhood gems such as Peapods in St. Paul, Wonderment in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and Flying Circus Toys in Albertville.
A handful of independent toy stores remain in the metro, including Mischief in St. Paul, Heroic Goods & Games in Minneapolis, Kiddywampus in Hopkins, Kremer’s Toy and Hobby in Albertville and Something Safari in Excelsior.
Bonoff said that blaming competition, online or otherwise, for the demise of Creative Kidstuff is too simplistic.
“When electronic toys hit the market it changed everything, but so has the amount of money that parents have to spend on kids’ toys,” she said. “Parents today divert more money to iPads, cellphones, sports and lessons.”
Cynthia Gerdes, co-owner of Hell’s Kitchen restaurant in Minneapolis, founded Creative Kidstuff in 1982 with a location in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis. After she sold it, the chain grew to 11 locations, including one in Iowa, but gradually scaled back.
“I feel sad and proud,” Gerdes said after hearing the news Wednesday. “But the writing is on the wall retail-wise. They operated for 30-some years and did it with integrity all the way.”
She sold Creative Kidstuff in 2004 to Myron Kunin, founder of Regis. The chain was sold to his son Tim Kunin in 2013. He owns the parent company GreaterGood, based in Seattle.
In addition to Linden Hills, Creative Kidstuff has locations in the Galleria in Edina, the Shops at the West End in St. Louis Park, on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, in Ridgedale Mall in Minnetonka and the Mall of America in Bloomington.
Jeff Freeland Nelson, owner of the St. Paul-based toymaker Yoxo, credits Bonoff and Creative Kidstuff with helping him first reach customers with his construction toys in 2012.
“You can’t go immediately to Target or Amazon. You go to Creative Kidstuff or Peapods,” Nelson said. “They gave us the first shot. Roberta is a savvy business person who cares about people and kids.”
The decision to close the stores was made by the Kunin family. The owners considered closing select locations, but Bonoff said the economics didn’t play out. “It takes almost as much money to run two stores as it does six,” she said.
The company likely would have had to trim staffing to keep it profitable, and it wasn’t willing to cut back on customer service, she said.
“This is a good time for people to figure out what stores they like and want to keep,” Gerdes said, referring to the proliferation of empty storefronts in neighborhoods and malls. “Shop locally at your favorite stores at least a few times a year if you want to keep them around.”
Creative Kidstuff has nearly 100 retail employees.
Creative Kidstuff’s wholesale division, KidSource, will remain. Launched in 2016, the Minnesota-based business finds products from small-batch vendors worldwide and sells them to specialty toy retailers.
More than 80 KidSource independent sales reps will stay on. The company will also continue to sell its products on Amazon. Its syndicated children’s TV show “The Happi House” will end this season.