A FIRST PERSON ACCOUNT OF RUNNING A SMALL BUSINESS

A fixture at Farmers Market since 1956, Kip's Toyland has traditionally attracted customers with old-fashioned service. But times are changing. Child's play has become a much bigger business with the proliferation of major chains and e-tailers. Meanwhile, Farmers Market is changing as well, with the Grove, a big-box development, scheduled to open next year. Jennifer Smith spoke with original owner Irvin Kipper, also known as Mr. Kip, about what the new millennium will bring for his toy store.

"We've been in business for 54 years. We started out in Town & Country village and moved to Third and Fairfax because there was greater opportunity here.

"One big change since we opened is that hand-held electronics have become a very important sector of the toy business. We do carry some electronics in our little operation, but we don't specialize in that end. Anything that keeps children occupied always sells well, whether it's a yo-yo, spinning top or craft items.

"Promotion and advertising now have a great influence on what kids ask for by name. After that, it's up to our staff to steer people toward what's right for a specific age. We have five or six employees. I hire people willing to learn, because nobody comes in knowing the toy business.

"The Christmas season yields a major portion of our business. There's also about a 10-week span in the middle of the summer when tourism increases. Between the two seasons, that's the bulk of our business.

"We're very busy right now because of the holidays. This year Pok & #233;man and Beanie Babies are big sellers. Demand for board games and family games is on the rise. We've always encouraged games, because they teach kids that it's OK to lose, and interacting with the family is of major importance.

"About 40 percent of our customers are tourists. Mostly they do impulse buys, things they don't see in their own countries. We try hard to keep hard-to-find items in stock.

"We're looking forward to the opening of the Grove. It'll open a whole avenue of new customers coming to Farmers Market. I don't know if there will be other toy stores. We've already got a fine base of repeat local customers, and we recently had the chance to get a better spot in the market. The new space is just under 2,000 square feet, and it's more centrally located. The challenge for us is to reach those new people that the development will bring."

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