Toy Store Opens in Mall

November 18, 2011 cjrusk
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Children tend to learn through the things that they experience first hand. There is no better way than to learn through their daily entertainment activities.

Learning Express Toys is adamant in providing children with the materials needed for both learning and fun.

Learning Express Toys recently opened in the Gadsden Mall.

The business is part of a franchise that began as a fundraiser for the school system in Devens, Mass. until about five years ago.

The founder saw a need for high quality toys, books, and games for children of all ages. Learning Express has over 140 franchised stores in 26 states, with five stores located in Alabama.

The new Gadsden location is a family business owned by Linda Stewart and her daughter, Marcia Thompson. The family also owns Learning Express in Trussville and Leeds.

“My son-in-law and daughter were in Destin, Fla., and there was one [Learning Express] down there,’ said Stewart. “He went in that store and didn’t say much about it, but two months later he started looking into it and getting some information on the franchise.

“We closed our tribute store because Eastwood Mall (in Birmingham) closed

down, and so we started looking into (the Gadsden area), and it seemed to be a good fit. The economy was doing really well at the time and we were really excited about it.”

Linda Stewart and her family are originally from Ashville but have family living in Gadsden. The decision to open the store in the Gadsden Mall felt like a perfect fit.

“They have a lot of things happening in this mall,” said Stewart. “On the weekends they have stuff going on that bring in people. I used to own a cookie store in Eastwood Mall, so I know about malls, the benefits and what goes on. Santa Clause is going to be right here [in front of the store].”

Learning Express provides toys from manufactures such as Alex, American Girl, Calico Critters, Creativity for Kids, LEGO, Melissa & Doug, Playmobil, Project Runway, Scientific Explorer, Sticky Mosaics, Ugly Doll, and many more.

“When people see Learning Express, they think that all of our toys are for students, but the way children learn is by playing with different things, said Stewart. “We try to have things that will help with their abilities to learn and everything. It is specialty toys, but we do have a lot of books like “Step into Reading” and stuff that will try and encourage children. We also have potty training stuff and cash registers are the things that all kids love so there are different levels of that. Everything that a child does helps him/her to learn.”

For the coming holiday season, Stewart plans to send out catalogs to the customers who are on the mailing list. The store will also start its Black Friday sale the Monday before Thanksgiving in order to avoid getting so busy. All items in the store currently are 20 percent off in honor of the business’ grand opening.

“I have six employees, so we are a little family business,” said Stewart. “My daughter and I pretty much run the stores, and our husbands are involved in different ways. My son and daughter-in-law and husband usually help out, too. When we get in kind of tight on the weekends we call them in. I’m planning on hiring more (employees). I probably need at least four more employees to get ready for the holiday season.”

Stewart and her family are all about making shopping at their store a fun experience. The store is designed to be hands on for the children, and sometimes the employees as well.

“My employees are having more fun than anyone,” she said. “They are always finding something to play with. It’s definitely a kid friendly store and we try to make it that way.”

Learning Express is located in the Gadsden Mall next to JC Penney and across from the mall office. Store hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. until 6 p.m.

“I hope that it’s profitable for us as well as the customers,” said Stewart. “I know in Trussville we get a lot of traffic from Gadsden, and I’ve already had customers who were so excited to see that we were moving here and that they didn’t have to drive all the way to Trussville.”