Meridian Industrial

ZEN'S TOYLAND

5/31/2020 | KEITH O’CONNOR

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Toyland, Toyland. Dear little girl and boy land. While you dwell within it, you are ever happy there,” go the lyrics to “Toyland” from the popular Walt Disney musical Christmas film “Babes in Toyland.”

Imagine, once again, walking into your favorite “toy land” as a child and seeing a new toy around every corner of the store that you just had to take home to make memories with.

Now imagine providing that very same experience for your child, and even yourself, at Zen’s Toyland, which sells over 5,000 different types of items including board games, arts and crafts, puzzles, books, baby toys and more.

Owner Harshal Patel - a real estate broker with his own business - opened his first Zen’s Toyland in Wethersfield, Conn, in early 2019 after purchasing the shop known as Wooden Toys for 30 years. While acquiring the stock for Wooden Toys, Patel said he had to “start from scratch” at his new location in Longmeadow, Mass., the site of the former Kiddly Winks toy store, late last year.

“I started looking to enter the toy business when Toys ‘R’ Us closed down,” Patel said.

The toy industry has come full-circle since Toys ‘R’ Us put many popular lo-cal mom ‘n’ pop toy stores out of busi-ness. Other bigger stores such as Kay Bee Toys and Child World also closed their doors finding it hard to compete, while department stores with toy sec-tions also felt the pinch.

Then came along a little something called “e-commerce,” where online sales, mostly from Amazon at the time, along with other big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, helped to put Toys ‘R’ Us out of business.

Some consider toys a risky business today. According to the NPD group, a lead-ing global information company, in 2018 retail sales generated $21.8 billion, a 2% decline after four straight years of growth in the toy industry. Last year, U.S. retail sales took another hit generating $20.9 billion, a decline of 4%.

Still, Patel feels there is a niche for his kind of toy store.

“I have two small kids and recognized the need for a good toy store,” Patel said about his sons, 3-year-old Zen, for whom the store is named after, and 1-year-old Zubin.

“There is a need for those old-type toy stores. I remember when I was a small kid actually going to Toys ‘R’ Us and touch-ing and playing with things. Being able to see toys still has its importance instead of going online. In our stores, you can see everything in one spot and see things you never knew existed before. All those different factors play into the need to have physical stores, but the likes of Wal-Mart and Target only have a handful of isles. They just don’t replace pure toy stores like ours,” Patel said.

The toy store owner noted what differentiates his shops from other bigger retailers is the quality of items they sell alongside the fact that “all of our toys are handpicked.” In fact, their website claims that they “only bring in toys that we would give our own children” and that they are “high quality and unique items that aren’t available elsewhere.”
Zen’s Toyland sells a variety of items ranging from baby teethers to adult puzzles. Customers, both in the store and online, will also find much in-demand  wooden toys, as well as kids’ puzzles, arts and crafts, jewelry, musical items, books, science-themed toys and projects, and baby clothing.

“We’re what you would call more of a boutique toy store. We have some big brand names like Mattel and Hasbro, but not a lot, and almost no Fisher-Price toys. We don’t carry your typical mainstream toys,” Patel said.

“Lego toys are, of course, very popular for boys and girls and one of the more popular items in the store. Board games are also extremely popular, and what is very different for us is that we have classic games like Chutes and Ladders, Twister, Trouble, Life, Risk, and Candy Land in their original older packaging,” he added.

Patel noted that puzzles and board games were popular before the shut-in was ordered during the current COVID-19 pandemic, and they continued in popularity online and for curbside pickup while the store was closed to the public. Impulse items such a stress balls, magnetic balls and putty are also popular at the checkout counter.

“For older kids we have remote control cars and for our youngest customers we have teethers made of wood and Japanese rice, small plush animals, and organic clothing,” Patel said.

Patel has also created a playroom where inquisitive little ones can “test drive” things the store carries.

Located on 803 Williams St. in Longmeadow, and at 1273 Silas Deane Highway in the Goff Brook Shops in Wethersfield,

Zen’s Toyland is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday.

For information on both shops, visit zenstoyland.com or call (413) 754-3654

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