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85-Year-Old UES Toy Store Will Move to New Space for Cheaper Rent

By Shaye Weaver | March 31, 2016 11:26am
 Owners Ezra and Judy Ishayik in front of Mary Arnold Toys.
Owners Ezra and Judy Ishayik in front of Mary Arnold Toys.
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DNAinfo/Shaye Weaver

UPPER EAST SIDE — For the second time in its 85-year history, Mary Arnold Toys is relocating to a new space on Lexington Avenue.

But this time, the new shop will be smaller in size — and in the rent it pays.

Father-daughter team Ezra and Judy Ishayik thought it was time to find a better situation to keep their little toy shop between 72nd and 73rd streets afloat amid news of other neighborhood businesses folding under financial pressures.

"We're getting a better place and a lower cost," Ezra Ishayik said on Wednesday, declining to say how much rent they'll pay in the new location or how much they currently pay.

The new shop will be located at at 1178 Lexington Ave., near East 81st Street, eight blocks north of its current store at 1010 Lexington Ave. It will be several hundred square feet smaller but will have tall 12-foot ceilings, the Ishayiks said.

The shop's creative window displays will be smaller but will nonetheless retain their splendor, Judy Ishayik, 32, said.

They expect to move some time between July and August, depending on when interior construction of the new space wraps.

"We're excited to get a special start in the new space," Judy Ishayik said. "We'll be located by preschools and middle schools, and so we're hoping to have a nice grand opening in September, when everyone is back to school."

Knowing the store's 15-year lease would be expiring, the Ishayiks feared their rent would double as has been the trend in the area lately, she said.

Two blocks south of the toy store, the women's clothing shop Courage b put up signs announcing its move due to high rent.

Some stores, like bakeries and designer clothing stores, can mark up their prices to make up for what they have to pay in rent, but for those that have to keep their costs down, it’s “very hard to survive,” Ezra Ishayik said.

“You can’t blame landlords. I would ask for the same because that’s what the market takes.”

In addition to having a fixed rent for the past 14 years, Ishayik and his daughter said they have benefited from a loyal customer base built from their customer service, which trumps what big-box stores and Amazon can offer.

All of the store’s staff, which are selected after a thorough vetting process, know the toys in the shop’s inventory, including items that many other places wouldn't carry. These include German porcelain tea sets decorated with scenes from Peter Rabbit, Russian nesting dolls, delicate Madame Alexander dolls and handmade costumes for dress-up.

Although Mary Arnold Toys features online ordering, it does most of its business in store and by phone, and at least 85 percent of its customers are repeat customers, the Ishayiks said.

The store is also part of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association, a national organization that offers support, training and marketing tips, as well as discounts to help stores keep costs down and business up, according to the Ishayiks.

Ezra Ishayik, 76, took over Mary Arnold Toys in 1983 with his siblings David and Hope, moving the store to its current location in 1997.

The story behind Mary Arnold Toys is somewhat folklore, Judy Ishayik said. It was opened in 1931 by "Mary" and "Arnold," who were either siblings or a couple, in a smaller location a few blocks south on Lexington between 70th and 71st streets.

In the late 1970s, a woman named Pam Hirsch bought the business and rebranded it, modeling the store after a gingerbread house, Judy Ishayik said. Gingerbread men are still incorporated into the logo.

Judy Ishayik, who lives on the Upper East Side, said she stopped teaching the first grade in New Jersey in 2008 and decided to run the store with her father.

Despite the challenges that may come in the next few years — rent no longer being one of them — Judy Ishayik is committed to seeing the store survive.

“We plan on being here for another 80 years,” she said.