, JP's high profile toy store will be back in operation soon. After being closed for five days of renovation, the shop will sport a new look and layout with well-stocked shelves. Boing! is scheduled to open quietly today, but then to introduce herself and the rejuvenated Boing! to the community, the new owner, Kim Mitchell, is planning a big bash for kids that will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 1. There will be free popcorn, free ice cream from Batch, a free raffle, a clown, prizes and giveaways to ensure that no child leaves empty handed.
Originally from Wayland, Mitchell is typical of many Jamaica Plain entrepreneurs. She says, "I live about 300 yards from here...I love JP, I love the neighborhood, it's almost a dream come true to now be working within the neighborhood."
Mitchell, 42, a JP resident most of the time since 1994, hasn't quit her day job. A 10-year employee of Deutsche Bank and currently a V.P. in asset management, she plans to continue there. It has clearly been that job that lead to her purchase. Not typical of first-time business owners, she was able to buy the contents of the store, its trademarks and business operations as well as its lease entirely from her own funds. She took possession on March 1 and has been learning the back office operations since then. She employs five people part time and has the help of her niece covering the store three days a week and her best friend from high school covering two days. She is also pleased to have kept José, a longtime employee of the former owner.
The former owner, Elaine Hackney, had negotiated a lease that still has two and a half years to run followed by a five year option at market rate with mechanisms to determine that rate should there be any dispute. Mitchell feels fortunate in having been able to assume that lease, as well as in the relationship that Hackney had established with Nicholas Darris. "The landlord for this building has a reputation for being a fair person...I hope that will continue," she said.
Closed since Easter Sunday, the renovation has been part of Mitchell's plan to put her own stamp on the 667 Centre St. store. With a banker's conservative eye toward economics, she has no specific plans to change the store's successful formula, but instead expects to gradually become more adept in the toy business, plug its inventory holes and steer it into the 21st century. She is aware of the need to embrace the wider social networks and has recently created both Twitter and Facebook locations. The store's own Web site is also on the list of things to do. Exactly what to do to it remains to be seen.
She is philosophical about the store's offerings, "A toy store has to have what people think a toy store's going to have. When they walk through the door...they're going to want Candyland, and they're going to want Lego and they're going to want origami paper." She points out that they will have organic stuffed animals and renewably produced products as well as the more traditional offerings.
It is a challenge to manage the limited space. With 1,800 square feet of selling space, Mitchell says that according to her research it is about 1,200 square feet shy of allowing her to stock everything that most people expect in a toy store. Creative management techniques, careful compromises, seasonal changes and purposeful selection will all be required. "I'm not out of room yet. I haven't had to make those difficult decisions yet because there's still room, but I'm aware that there will become a point when I'll have to decide."
With the help of family and friends and a steady stream of well-wishers, she expects to meet all of her immediate goals. She said that her partner and her parents have been helpful and supportive throughout the process and she was pleased when her father remarked that after spending long hours in JP Center and hearing the comments of the clientele, he had come to understand why she loves Jamaica Plain the way that she does. She also laughingly described how excited her 5-year-old daughter has been ("out of her mind") since she has become a toy store owner and how the little girl's expectations will have to be managed going forward.
Always a lover of toys, "Who doesn't love toys?" Mitchell asks, she seems to have just the right blend of enthusiasm and qualifications for the job.