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Playtime is over: Wyker's Toys, open since 1888, to close Tuesday
[June 28, 2009]

Playtime is over: Wyker's Toys, open since 1888, to close Tuesday

Jun 28, 2009 (The Decatur Daily - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Wyker's Toys, a Decatur institution first as a hardware store and then as a toy store, will close Tuesday.

The family business, in its fourth generation, began in 1888 as Wyker's Hardware. It moved to its 711 Bank St. N.E. location in 1905 and, over the years, was Wyker & Son, John D. Wyker & Son and Wyker TruValu.

Susan Wyker Jones runs the business and owns it with her sister, Ella Martin. Jones entered the business when it was a hardware store, but it had a growing toy section.

The recession triggered Wyker's demise, but other problems affected the hardware store even before it became Wyker's Toys.

Big-box competitors like Sears and Lowes pummeled the hardware store. Wal-Mart, Target and the Internet had the same impact on the toy store.

"My sick cow has just been sick too long," Jones said. "I've taken him to the vet too many times. It was time to bulldoze him 6 feet under." Specialty items For years, Jones had success in finding a niche to fight competition from the big-box stores and their massive inventory.

"We've hung in there and tried to not have the Fisher Price, the Mattel, the things the big-box stores have," she explained.

"We've tried to have specialty items that were unique, quality toys that were not available other places. I carried lines that didn't sell to the mass market." People recognized the store's niche and traveled for miles to visit.

"Now people come here and say they're so sad to hear we are closing because they find things here they can't find anywhere else," Jones said.

After a pause, she continues.

"But they didn't need me bad enough to keep me in business. They were still Internet shopping. They were still going elsewhere." Jones said there was no one in the Wyker family likely to carry on the retail tradition, and she knows her shop joins many others in succumbing to the recession.

"We've seen a decline through the last several years, but it's mainly due to the economy. It's making it very difficult for me, or almost anyone, to make it work," Jones said. "Even the big stores, the Circuit Citys and Linens 'n Things, couldn't make it." Like the hardware store before it, Wyker's Toys has succumbed to a new way of shopping.

"There are not a whole lot of independent stores out there period, because we have a hard time competing with the big-box, mass-market stores," Jones said. "It used to be the local toy store is where you went to get your toys, but now there are so many other places." The specialty-item, old-style niche that served her well for years failed her with the increasing popularity of electronics. The Wyker's niche included wooden blocks and Jack-in-the-Box toys, but not high-tech gadgets.

"The electronics have not helped anything," she lamented. "These kids that have the Wiis and the Xboxes. If a parent or a child has the money for those, and that's what the child wants, that's what they are going to spend it on. That is a big part of what the kids want now." A large store that once was filled with inventory gradually became smaller as the family leased sections to other businesses. Earlier this year one tenant, Bank Street Deli, ended its lease when it went out of business.

"We just decided this was the time to throw in the towel," Jones said.

Her father, who owned the building, is selling it to Bobby Reeves, Jones said. Reeves is the father of Decatur City Council President Greg Reeves.

"Bank Street has such potential. It's held its own for a long time. We were never a ghost town like parts of the downtown were," Jones said. "I hope the potential of this building blooms and something good happens." To see more of The Decatur Daily, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, The Decatur Daily, Ala.

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