TUPELO • One by one, toy stores have disappeared from the retail landscape.
Toys R Us closed in 2018 after filing for Chapter 11, and nearly a decade earlier, KB Toys – also known as Kay-Bee Toys – closed the rest of its locations nationwide.
But that didn’t deter Taylor Smith and Austin Gentry to open a store of their own. They remember what those stores were like, and they wanted to mimic the look and feel of them, but with more local flair.
Last Tuesday, Smith and Gentry opened SG Toys at The Mall at Barnes Crossing with high hopes.
“We’ve been looking at different ideas at opening a retail store, and we kind of put our ears to the ground and listened to what the community wanted, and it was a toy store,” said Smith, who is married to Gentry.
It’s the couple’s first retail venture together, and they’ve sunk all their savings into it.
“We’ve got product coming in every day, and we’re even having to expand already,” Smith said.
They were inspired after visiting the St. Louis Galleria mall last year. Smith thought working in a mall would be fun, and Davis agreed. For the next few months they formulated a business plan with hopes of one day opening a store in St. Louis.
As luck would have it, the St. Louis Galleria is owned by the same parent company as The Mall at Barnes Crossing — Brookfield Properties. They approached mall general manager Jeff Snyder, and worked out a lease.
“Toy stores are great for malls,” Snyder said. “We have a family environment with the carousel, play area and other entertainment for kids. I believe it’s been a missing element that kids of all ages can enjoy. We’re excited to see a local team like SG see that opportunity and energy the mall. It’s a fun store for all.”
The store is located near the Belk Men’s Store inside the mall, and its shelves are filled with a variety of toys, from sock monkeys to tents, board games to plush animals, dolls and dollhouses, marbles, plastic dinosaurs and more.
Looking for a bubble machine or maybe some windup toys? They’ve got them. The store also carries kaleidoscopes.
“Right now, we’re trying to be that small, locally owned toy store with unique things you can’t find at Walmart and things like that; we don’t ever want to feel like a big box store,” Smith said.
For those familiar with the movie, “Mr. Magorium’s Magical Emporium,” that’s the vibe that Smith and Gentry want to emulate (on a smaller scale of course). The store has no boys and girls sections; rather the toys are mixed together. That invites more interaction and curiosity, something all kids have.
“If you’re 9 or 89, we’ll have something for you,” Smith said.
Getting toys hasn’t been an issue for SG Toys, as it’s supplier comes from Texas, which is able to ship orders within days.
“We order, and they’re here in the next day or two,” Smith said.
And don’t look for too many branded items, although the store can get some if needed. SG Toys is going for less expensive, but just-as-fun merchandise to fill the shelves.
“Kids don’t care about brands — it’s the parents who do,” he Smith said.
The store’s hours will follow those of the mall. SG Toys has a Facebook page to keep customers informed. A website is in the works as well.
The long-term goal is to grow SG Toys, but not too big.
“I don’t want to be a big box store, but it would be great to have multiple small SG Toys in other small cities and still have that local feel, I would love that,” Smith said. “But one step at a time.”
For now, Smith and Gentry await what everyone has to say about the store, because ideally, the store is for them.
“We want to get the community’s input,” Smith said. “If we don’t carry something you want, we can try to get it. This is our opinion of what we think kids will like. And really it’s not just for kids; who doesn’t want to have fun?”