Local Store Closing

In last month’s SRCA Newsletter we indicated that it was our intent to continue operating the Learning Express Toy Store for an additional five years. As many of you are now aware, the store is closing. What happened?

January 2003 marks the end of our fifth year of operation. It has been an interesting ride. When we opened the store, the community came out in droves. We saw our sales grow each month. It continued into our second year of operation. We did not know it at the time, but our second year would turn out to be our highest sales volume.

As we entered our third year of business, a large corporate toy store opened in Mira Mesa. We were concerned, but remained optimistic. We believed we were an integral part of the community. We based this on the fact that we hardly ever said "no" when approached for a donation by a Scripps Ranch group.

We sponsored sports teams from soccer to baseball to softball. We supported the elementary schools with donations and fundraisers. We offered a frequent buyer program for our shoppers, encouraging them to earn free merchandise. We ran one of the best toddler story hours around San Diego. The list of activities is endless, so we believed our customers would remain loyal.

Two months after the other store opened, we began to see our sales decline. The decline never ended. The marketing muscle of a large public company is difficult to compete with. It did not matter that the prices were competitive, and our service was better. It was hard to believe, but we were fighting for our existence.

In an attempt to compete, we downsized the store to reduce our overhead. Our landlord recognized the value of having Learning Express in the community and worked with us to reduce expenses. The hope was that sales would remain constant, but expenses would be reduced. Sales continued to erode.

When we wrote the article for last month’s SRCA Newsletter, it was in the beginning of November. Our hope was that this holiday season would be at least equal to last year’s numbers. In retail, and especially in the toy business, 40% of your yearly sales volume comes in the last two months of the year.

The day after Thanksgiving would be the busiest day of those two months. For us, it was dismal. In spite of the 1,800 mailed postcards and the 24,000 flyers we put in The San Diego Union-Tribune, we did half the volume of last year. If the sales in November were so bad, what would January bring? The message was clear. It was time to close the store.

We have mixed emotions related to the closure. Many of our closest friends are people we met through the business. They have become an integral part of our family. The store will not be there, but these friends will always be part of our family. What will be forgotten is the stress related to the mounting bills and the lower sales.

Customers have come into the store expressing their support and concern about where they will shop. It is nice to hear that we were appreciated. While it is true that the cost of operating a small business in the state of California has become prohibitive, that is not the entire story.

The real story is that local stores must have the support of the community. The Scripps Ranch Marketplace is not a regional mall. It survives or fails based on the shopping habits of the people within the community. The choices you make directly affect the viability of the businesses in your area.

It is too late for us, but not too late for the other storeowners in the community. We hope that when you have the choice, you will choose to patronize the businesses in Scripps Ranch. Thank you for enriching our lives and for being our friends. We will miss all of you.

Eileen and Ira Marks, Learning Express Owners

More Vandalism

I read with interest and disappointment the article on vandalism in the December SRCA Newsletter. Our family too has been subject to a number of vandalism instances in the past few months. We had one vehicle broken into in September, and my son’s stereo was stolen.

In November my wife’s car was severely vandalized to the tune of $2,500. Add to this an egging in September and again in December. The final straw was uprooting our Christmas reindeer on our front lawn.

Each of these instances initially was explained away as youthful stupidity. The first vandalism/theft cost us $2,000 in deductible and replacement of items not covered by insurance. The recent one cost us another $500 deductible.

Each instance has been reported to the police, but without much hope. The only hopeful note was the vandalism in November. Police indicated there were a rash of cars vandalized that night, and they had a report of a specific car make and color with teenagers inside leaving one of the scenes.

The real disappointing part for me is that I sought out Scripps Ranch as a safe area for my family. Some of this is teenage hi-jinks. But, the increasing trend of vandalism and the cost in personal property has me wondering if Scripps Ranch is really the place for my family.

It is a sad testament to our neighborhood that some teens do not have appreciation for the value of other people’s property, and it makes me fear for their generation that these kids have such poor values and respect. It may be a few bad seeds, but it needs to stop.

Extra policing may be one answer, but continued involvement of Scripps Ranch parents–knowing where your children are, who they are with, and where they are–would go a long way in addressing this problem. My next step will be to have video cameras installed. I hope it is not your child who is caught on tape.

Name Withheld