Toys R Us isn’t the only toy store coming to an end in Durham

The Play House Toy Store on Ninth Street is liquidating its inventory, as its owner, Donna Frederick, considers the future of the space.
The Play House Toy Store on Ninth Street is liquidating its inventory, as its owner, Donna Frederick, considers the future of the space. The News & Observer

Toys R Us isn’t the only toy store closing its doors permanently in Durham this spring.

The Play House Toy Store on Ninth Street is liquidating its inventory, as owner Donna Frederick considers the future of the space at 702 Ninth St.

The toy store, which has been on the street under different owners since 1985, has been struggling for several years, as it faces stiff competition from online retailers and changing tastes. Last year it launched a GoFundMe campaign and even changed its business model to provide after-school programs for children in an effort to right its finances.

“We thought if the business model changed, we could get the support and the money would be there and we would not close the doors completely,” said Frederick, who has owned the store since 2008.

That crowdfunded money and the tweaked business model helped for several months, but after Dimensions Family School – a resource for home-schooled children that was based above the store – closed, the business began struggling again.

Now, Frederick appears to be ready to move away from the toy store and activity model completely — if she can find the funds.

She is now considering opening an organic and healthy snack store that would allow independent crafts makers to sell items in the store.

To do that, Frederick said she would need $8,000 immediately, and probably around $25,000 to do a proper revamp of the store plus marketing. The store currently has raised $1,100 and its GoFundMe from last year is still active, she said.

“If it looks like people aren’t really buying into it, and we don’t have the money at the end of April … (we’ll) see what happens,” she said of the possibility of vacating her Ninth Street space.

Frederick’s landlord, Ninth Street Flowers owner Larry Wood, said Frederick hadn’t shown him new business plans yet, though she briefly mentioned the idea to him.

He has been letting Frederick go on a month-to-month lease, while she got her finances for the store in order. Wood also reduced the amount of space Frederick rented, which decreased the amount she was paying.

“We didn’t put her on another lease because she is really trying to figure out how to make a go of it,” Wood said.

Wood said that while the Play House has struggled, business on the street has picked up over the past year. Already several parties have approached him with interest about the Play House space.

“It’s as healthy as it has ever been since I bought (my building) in 2003,” he said. “Once they completed all the construction across the street … things have really bounced back.”

That being said several longstanding businesses on the streets, such as Francesca’s, which closed, have struggled.

“The people that have transitioned and are taking advantage of marketing opportunities seem to be doing well,” Wood said.

“The most important thing we did (when we bought the business) was spend a considerable amount of money rebranding,” he said, adding that he is concerned Frederick’s financial position won’t allow her to do the same.

Wood said he is open to discussing the healthy snack business plan with Frederick, but he has some reservations about whether it could work.

“If someone approached me off the street with that concept I don’t think I would rent to them. It’s way too competitive,” he said, adding that Whole Foods is only a block away.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes