The slow march to the end has begun with a clearance sale at The Children’s Store on South Elliott Road.
It’s been 40 years since Jeanette Pfaff opened the shop at then-University Mall.
She paid about $375 a month for the space – roughly $1,500 in today’s dollars – filling it with children’s goods that she and store manager Christine Coventry found on seasonal buying trips and at toy fairs in far-off cities. Coventry has remained part of the business since 1979, Pfaff said.
Chapel Hill was growing when the New York native moved here in 1967. The town was becoming much more cosmopolitan, Pfaff said, and the store offered specialty goods that department stores didn’t have.
“I really took to it,” she said. “For somebody who thought she was going to be a philosophy professor, what I really liked was the day-to-day rhythm of it.”
She expanded into a second store, the Toy Corner, before folding it later into The Children’s Store. Her daughter Becky Broun quit a career in graphic design at the urging of her husband, Dan, and partnered with her mother in 1999 to run the store. They moved it to Elliott Road in 2011.
Everything’s online now, but Pfaff, 78, still prefers using paper and pencil to plan employee schedules. They mark each toy by hand with a pricing gun and finish wrapping every gift with a signature explosion of colorful, shredded paper.
“That’s the way mom ran it, and it always worked. So we still run it that way,” Broun said.
Pfaff noted there’s an advantage to living in a community and knowing your customers. She’s also going to miss creative side of the work.
“There’s any number of toys available, and you pick what you think is going to look beautiful in the store and appeal to your customers,” Pfaff said. “I think the other thing is a store is like an organism. The challenge is to keep the organism alive, and I’ve managed to do it for 40 years.”
Broun, 48, is supporting Dan now, as he fights an aggressive leukemia that resurfaced in January. She will miss the familiarity of coming to the store, she said.
“I think we have a beautiful store, and I think I’m going to miss coming to work knowing I helped make this,” Broun said. “I’ll miss seeing mom every day. ... the actual job itself, buying these fun things and making people happy.”
The toy business is still good – they’d like to see someone else open a shop – albeit a little slower because of online shopping and increased competition, they said. Construction at the Alexan apartments didn’t help, Broun admits, and while their landlord will give South Village Plaza a new look, they can’t wait it out.
There’s no last day yet, but they will leave with the memory of many wonderful employees and loyal customers, several of whom played in the store as children and now bring their own kids in to shop, Pfaff said.
“It was 40 years of a job that we looked forward to going to every day,” she said.