Great Toys and Great Service Giving Back to the Community
About 5 years ago Marjorie Stern decided to open an Upper West Side retail store in order to train young people for associated careers. Until they’re of legal age, it’s nearly impossible for the city’s youngsters to get responsible, paid work. Competition is stiff at any point; connections are often necessary to secure positions. If hired, a teenager is likely asked to do only menial tasks or to learn just a single aspect of any operation. Marjorie intended to change all that. She would provide an opportunity to learn every facet of retailing while requiring her staff to be neat, well spoken and reliable. She would pay what for many would be first salaries, as interns acquired skills, pride of accomplishment, and a work ethic.
The venue would be a children’s store. Incipient staff might easily relate and she herself would enjoy being involved. The Children’s Aid Society, helping New York’s children and families in need since 1853, was chosen as partner and beneficiary of the fledgling development program. “They’re hands on and really care about the kids,” she tells me.
A Time for Children, supported by Marjorie and Michael Stern’s Big Wood Foundation, opened its doors at 506 Amsterdam Avenue in July 2007. 100% of its profits go to The Children’s Aid Society.
Like the little engine that could, the pretty 500 square foot store slowly grew in confidence and knowledge becoming a neighborhood staple. Marjorie and her manager, currently the very personable Gwen White, shop for stock together. They ask the teenagers in the program for recommendations “they’re closer in age than we are,” Gwen points out, as well as listening to their clientele and choosing items that will gently, often secretly stretch minds and stimulate creativity. “You don’t want children to grow up too quickly,” Gwen comments. “I know parents are challenged now- it’s easy to just give a child an electronic toy and walk away, but it causes problems later.” We discuss the difficulties kids have with penmanship these days and the prevalence of attention deficit issues.
Toys, books and clothing range from $10.95 to $100.00. Stacking blocks sell out at an amazing rate. Some things never change. Adorable tutus for 2-4 year-olds hang by the front door. There’s a section containing art supplies and craft kits (all safe), shelves with New York-centric things purchased by both tourists and New Yorkers who want to give something recognizably from their city when they become visitors, and an area reserved for baby gifts including in part, bibs, teethers, blankies and some very cute apparel. A repositionable sticker set sits beside a large plastic fish-shaped beach shovel, jump ropes, street chalk, and selected games.
Marjorie never intended to carry books, especially with a Barnes and Noble store so close by, but when she stocked stuffed animal character-and-book sets, books outsold the beasts.
There are now a substantial number of volumes for children from first reading to about age 7. Every single one is read/screened by Marjorie and Gwen and many by the young staff.
Three times a year 14 disadvantaged kids are screened and chosen through The Children’s Aid Society to work 4 months each on a rotating basis, likely 2 afternoons and a single full day depending on whether school is in session. Applications can be filled out at the shop. Young staff is paid by the hour, including the time during which they train. Areas in which they’re educated include inventory management, point-of-sale systems, display, shipping, customer service (people skills are paramount), selling, returns, clothing sizes, even folding up oversized cardboard boxes …it’s marketable experience. “Graduates” have gone on to such retailers as Lindt Chocolate and DSW. Marjorie does everything she can to help place those who want to continue elsewhere.
“If work is up to par and they’re doing really well, we’ll bring them over to the next season,” Gwen explains. This is exactly what happened with the charming, soft spoken Amani Ahoua who, just turning 16, is in her third session, now legally able to join the staff and training others. Amani wants to have her own operation one day retailing food and catering. She’s taking a cooking class and learns in the kitchen with her mother. Time spent with little nieces and nephews makes the budding entrepreneur friendly and patient with clientele.
A Time for Children is pristine, everything well tended and arranged. Hanging above the register are presents left by local fans, a paper turtle made by Charlie and a paper fish. Pint sized regulars tend to linger or stop by just to say hello. The shop is an enclave of warmth and nurturing. Marjorie, Gwen and the staff know their products and they know their customers. Gift wrapping is available and gift packages of assorted items can be assembled in baskets, small wagons, and cradles for about $50.00 and up. There’s no charge for compiling just the right assortment or for making the package. Only the cost of the items and shipping, if applicable, are requested.
Each year Time for Children sends a group of young people out into the world better equipped to deal with not only business but responsibility, independence and life, kind of like Mrs. Miniver or Mr. Chips.
A Time for Children
506 Amsterdam Avenue 212 580 8202
Weekdays 10:00- 7:00pm
Saturday 10:00-7:00pm, Sunday 11:00-6:00pm
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