Nearly a decade ago, the Country Club Plaza wanted to add a toy store to its mix, as well as more locally owned shops.
By recruiting Crown Center’s Zoom Toy Store it did both. At the time, Zoom’s owner, John Middelkamp, described the Plaza as “unquestionably the most exciting retail center in a large region.”
But now the store, at 300 Ward Parkway, will shutter when its lease expires at the end of January.
Middelkamp said he is well past “normal retirement age,” but the landscape for brick-and-mortar retail also is rapidly changing. He said online ordering is not only more convenient, it offers extensive discounts, making it difficult for toy stores to compete.
“I’ve had people come in and shop and then look online to see if they can find it cheaper. But if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar store you can sell it cheaper,” he said. “And losing Halls (department store) definitely hurt. We lost a lot of our grandmother business.”
He said the new owners of the Plaza also have been “far less supportive of their retail stores and maintaining the Plaza’s standards than Highwoods had been.”
He said Highwoods, the previous Plaza owner, once signed up a pop-up calendar store for the season. When he pointed out that it also sold toys, he said Highwoods promised it wouldn’t happen again -- and it didn’t. But in 2016, under the Plaza’s new owners, a seasonal store for Go Calendars Games & Toys opened. It returned to the same space this year, hoping to stay permanently.
In a statement, Plaza officials said: “The Zoom Toy Store has been a great offering on the Plaza and we are sad they have made the decision to close. We remain committed to creating the best possible shopping environment and will announce new tenants with the community in due course.”
Middelkamp had worked in merchandising for Macy’s, Stix Baer & Fuller and then Dillard’s before opening his first toy store, The Puzzle Box, in St. Louis Union Station in 1988. In the early 1990s he opened Zoom in Crown Center and later also operated an Overland Park store.
Zoom is currently fully stocked with toys, games, stuffed animals, Legos, science kits, dolls, and more, including a tween section with such items as bath bombs and sequined cosmetic bags, all discounted 20 percent.
“We have always stressed quality and uniqueness and play value. And fair prices,” he said. “We want to have a bang-out closing so we are bringing in new merchandise and best sellers — including Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty and Popsockets.”