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Changing business climate closes store after 28 years

The bright, orange doors of Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop will be closing for good in January. The children’s bookstore, originally opened in Covina before moving to the La Verne location, has been providing the local children a place to foster a love of reading for the last 28 years.

Owners Judy and Byron Nelson cite a changing business climate and the desire for “big box” discount stores as contributing reasons why they are closing their beloved bookshop.

“Over the last few years we have done everything we could think of to help bring sales up but in the end it just wasn’t enough,” Mrs. Nelson said.

Increased craft projects for children, frequent author visits and carrying even the most popular titles were all done in attempts to bring in more customers. While the changes helped, in the end the demand for physical books was not high enough to keep the doors open.

According to the Association of American Publishing, the demand for eBooks grew by 45 percent in 2012 and now constitutes 20 percent of the trade market. The demand for hardcover and paperback has been holding steady since 2011. This increase in online book purchases has closed many mom and pop type bookshops down in favor of convenience.

“Personally, I believe having a bookstore where people can come in and browse and be surrounded by books is more important than just seeing a picture and a description,” Ms. Nelson said.

During the 28 years the store has been open, it’s had a series of events and visitors that have caught the community’s attention. The most famous are the author visits that bring writers in to meet the children and discuss what it takes to become a writer. Guests include Chris Colfer of Glee, Ray Bradbury and Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo. Ms. Nelson recalls when Captain Kangaroo visited the shop in 1998 and how the line to meet him wove in and out of the aisles and way out the door.

Since the announcement of the closure the store has been packed full of children and parents taking advantage of the 50 to 90 percent discounts. Toys that were once priced at $9.99 now sell for $0.82 as customers walk out in a steady stream laden with stacks of toys and books.

Even though the shop may be closed as early as next week with sales increasing ten-fold, that does not stop the attentive staff from going through and organizing and reshelving books that have been taken out by customers.

rs. Nelson has been kept busy alongside her staff to help keep up with the crowds. She often will stop and visit with regular customers that have grown up visiting the store.

The owners’ son, Andy Nelson, walked down the aisles with his own son in his arms on Monday remembering when he used to come to author visits and work at the shop in his teens. Every summer he would assist with customers, sales and even gardening. He remembers how he painted the parking stripes in the small parking lot behind Mrs. Nelson’s as well.

While he is sad to see the store close, he is not surprised by the closure.

“Bookstores are being pushed out,” Mr. Nelson said. “It’s something where you can’t change the business enough to keep up with the trend.”

His parents are sad that while their own children were able to grow-up within the store’s walls, their grandchildren will have say goodbye before they are old enough to remember walking down the aisles of books, Mr. Nelson said.

“The families are what I will miss the most,” Ms. Nelson said. “It’s so rewarding to see families come in, look at books and toys and just enjoy spending time together, while at the same time encouraging the love of books.”

Two-year patron Malissa Hernandez will miss the brick and mortar store for the quality time it lets her spend with her two-year-old son, Jacob. Commuting from Rialto to the University of La Verne for work, Ms. Hernandez would pass the store as she ran errands and think of what kind of fun her family could have inside.

“I remember passing the shop and thinking, ‘as soon as we have kids, we’ll go there’” Ms. Hernandez said. “I am really going to miss the special attention that the staff gives to customers, there aren’t a lot of bookstores like this besides the chain stores.”

Since Jacob was born, she has made it a point to bring him to Mrs. Nelson’s for author visits and the various craft activities that the location offered. Jacob often visits with his daycare group between visits with his mom.

As time runs out for the mom and pop business, visitors have stopped to leave memories and thank you messages on the store’s memory wall. Many of the stories talk about the friends children made with staff members or other children while they waited in line to checkout. Others are from local teachers thanking Mrs. Nelson’s for their devotion to teaching their students the joy of reading.

“This brick and mortar store will forever be a part of the fabric of my life,” one message reads.

Thankfully, there is still light at the end of the tunnel for devote fans of the toy and book shop. While the La Verne location will be shutting its doors for good, the Pomona locations of Mrs. Nelson’s Book Fair Company and Mrs. Nelson’s Library Services will remain open. Currently, the owners are not sure if the author visits will continue at these locations as setting up the visits there will prove tricky.

Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop is located at 1030 Bonita Ave. in La Verne.

—Christina Burton

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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