UPPER EAST SIDE — The end is near for a store that specializes in beginnings.
Planet Kids, a baby store with Upper East and Upper West Side outposts, will close both locations at the end of February after more than 20 years in business. Owner Ariel Tavasi said he can no longer sustain the business in the face of growing competition from online retailers.
“We’ve become more of a showroom for our customers,” he said. “They come in to look at the merchandise and ask questions, but then they leave and try find cheaper prices online.”
Tavasi opened the original Planet Kids, which carries everything from high-end strollers to organic baby shampoo, at 103rd Street and Broadway in 1991. He later closed that location and opened storefronts on East 86th Street and on Amsterdam Avenue in 1999, after noticing the growing number of families in the areas.
“The neighborhood was very family oriented,” he said. “It was a close-knit community and we felt we could have a relationship with our customers, which I’m grateful to say we did.”
While his clientele hasn’t changed much since then, Tavasi said, his competition has.
In addition to high-end baby boutiques and big-box retailers, competition from online retailers like Amazon has proved to be the biggest challenge, he explained.
“It’s all about the element of price. Until a few months ago, when you bought something online, you didn’t even have to pay taxes on it,” Tavasi said. “When you’re making a big purchase, that makes a big difference.”
Planet Kids tried to keep pace by launching its own website and offering incentives such as a price-matching program and free delivery on large orders. But the competition for low prices proved too steep for a business trying to cover Manhattan rents, Tavasi said.
He noted that many customers were surprised upon hearing the news of the closing.
“I shop here often,” said one mother as she left the East 86th Street store with her infant daughter after a visit this week. “We’re upset that it’s closing.”
Olga Cuacuas, who works in the area, said there aren’t many other options for parents shopping on the Upper East Side.
“I don’t like that it’s closing," she said. "It’s a nice place and it’s great for kids."
Tavasi may maintain an online shop for Planet Kids, but said he doesn’t foresee opening another storefront at a different location.
“It used to be that New York City customers wanted a relationship with their stores,” he said. “That doesn’t’ seem to be the case anymore, and small businesses are suffering.”
Planet Kids Upper East and Upper West Side locations will close on Feb. 28. Both stores are currently offering major discounts on remaining merchandise.