Running toy store
has been a grown-up job

In his "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show, host Garrison Keillor touts a fictitious grocery store, "If you can't find it at Ralph's you can probably get along without it."

When Judy Eguchi couldn't find the kinds of toys she wanted for her children more than 20 years ago, she didn't just "get along without it." She found a niche.

She began Child's Play in late 1981 as a retail store in Ward Warehouse specializing in educational toys and learning materials. Its employees have primarily been trained educators, or noneducators with a passion for child development.

Over the weekend the store marked its 20th anniversary with balloons, cookies, storytelling, face painting, "make and take" activities for children and a coloring contest.

"It was a very nice and successful promotion," Eguchi said. "The kids were real happy and everything turned out nicely."

She could not have envisioned the milestone for her business. "I didn't imagine it would last this long," she said.

Caitlyn Akamine-Lii looked through a balloon sculpture made for her Saturday at Child's Play in Ward Warehouse. Caitlyn was held by her grandfather, Eldon Akamine. The store was celebrating its 20th anniversary.

"It's been fun all these years. We've had trials and tribulations and challenges but overall I think it's a great business to be in. It's very enjoyable. I think everyone's a kid at heart."

Launching the business was akin to hunting and joy accompanied each discovery.

"Right now it's so easy to get started, not like 20 years ago. Everybody's out there and they're all advertising but back then it was hard to find vendors. So that was the start. The most exciting part was setting it up," Eguchi said.

The toy store landscape has changed dramatically since then with the openings of Toys R Us, K B Toys, Kmart and Wal-Mart, and since 1997 her most direct competitor, the edu-toy-focused Thinker Toys in Ala Moana Center, Kahala Mall and Pearlridge Center.

For years prior, the other significant game in town was Jeanlu toys which in its hey day had four locations. After 46 years in business, the last of the Jeanlu stores, in Kailua, closed in 1997.

In recent years increased competition has taken its toll on Child's Play.

"I had four full-time employees at one time and many part-timers," Eguchi said. She told them things were getting harder "and they elected to leave and so I had to start all over again. That's about the time Sept. 11 happened.

"I think it was in that year I was just rebuilding but basically they saved me from having larger losses," Eguchi said.

The process has brought her into closer contact with customers and given her "a better feel for how we're doing," she said.

Her sense is that "the local people are either being very conservative or it could be that economically everyone is struggling still." Tourist business keeps her afloat now.

The store is hardly Eguchi's first turn at running a business or in retail.

After studying architecture and working for a development company, Eguchi and her then-husband started their own business, Motoomi and Associates Architectural Illustrators.

"We felt we were working too hard and everything depended on our manual labor," she said. "So we decided we wanted to try retail."

The Art Board art and framing shop was born at Ward Warehouse in 1980; it later moved to Ala Moana Center and is now at 1931 S. Beretania St.

Motoomi and Judy Eguchi are no longer partners in business or in life, but their 25-year-old son and 22-year-old daughter are following in their architectural footsteps.

Judy Eguchi has been tempted to retire as she reviews rent increases over the years at Ala Moana Center and Victoria Ward, both now owned by Chicago-based General Growth Properties.

"The rent's killing all the small businesses," she said, describing the Art Board's 25-to-30-year history at Ala Moana.

"In that time span we moved the store three times and they raised the rent to astronomical numbers. It's really hard for a labor-intensive business," she said.

Changing demographics are adding to the impact on Child's Play.

The store carries products for children from newborn to age 8 and she sees a decrease in her target demographics.

"The younger children and their more educated parents are moving away, making it more difficult," Eguchi said.

Her lease is up for renewal before the end of this year.

"Many things are uncertain and unclear," she said. "I'd love to stay here another five years but with so many uncertainties I don't know what we're going to do yet."

"Regardless of what happens, this has been very rewarding."

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin.
Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle,
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached

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