Arts

Finding a toy store is about to get harder: Ambassador Toys is closing

Owner of longtime shop at Town & Country Village calling it quits

Ambassador Toys in Palo Alto, one of the last toy stores left on the Midpeninsula, is preparing to close up shop.

The Town & Country Village store has been a destination for just about anyone looking for retro games, books, puppets, crafts and toys for newborns through middle schoolers. The owner is apparently retiring, according to a giant yellow sign posted in the window, which reads: "Retiring. Store closing. Everything on sale."

An employee at the shop, who told the Weekly he learned of the pending closure last week, said he did not know when the store's last day will be. He declined to comment further.

The Palo Alto store is not the only Ambassador site set to close; it appears that all three stores are closing. According to neighborhood news website Hoodline, both San Francisco shops are closing, with one set to shutter as early as Friday, Jan. 31.

Owner Linda Kapnick could not be reached for comment.

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Kapnick founded Ambassador Toys in San Francisco in 1997. She reportedly was frustrated with the toy market while shopping for her own children and decided to open a shop with inspiring and nurturing toys that would teach kids about the world around them.

Kapnick opened the Palo Alto site in 2008. During its 12 years at Town & Country Village, the shop was voted "Best Toy Store" or runner-up multiple times in the newspaper's annual "Best Of" edition that ranks the area's best businesses based on readers' votes. Ambassador Toys gained national recognition after The Toy Association nominated it as one of the five best specialty toy stores in the United States.

Palo Alto customers raved on Yelp about the the store's eclectic selection, including old favorites like a Slinky.

"Instead of buying at an 'everything,' big box store, you can come to a place like Ambassador Toys and know that everything has been vetted by the owners as something a kid would like," one customer commented.

Another called the Palo Alto site, "The cutest toy store I've seen in the Bay Area!"

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Ambassador Toys is the third notable toy store to close its doors in Palo Alto in the past four years. Educational toy store Gray Matters on California Avenue closed last year, and longtime toy store Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World closed in 2017 after operating downtown for 87 years.

Related content:

A year in Shop Talk: 2019 openings and closings for Midpeninsula retailers, restaurants

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Finding a toy store is about to get harder: Ambassador Toys is closing

Owner of longtime shop at Town & Country Village calling it quits

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Jan 30, 2020, 1:40 pm

Ambassador Toys in Palo Alto, one of the last toy stores left on the Midpeninsula, is preparing to close up shop.

The Town & Country Village store has been a destination for just about anyone looking for retro games, books, puppets, crafts and toys for newborns through middle schoolers. The owner is apparently retiring, according to a giant yellow sign posted in the window, which reads: "Retiring. Store closing. Everything on sale."

An employee at the shop, who told the Weekly he learned of the pending closure last week, said he did not know when the store's last day will be. He declined to comment further.

The Palo Alto store is not the only Ambassador site set to close; it appears that all three stores are closing. According to neighborhood news website Hoodline, both San Francisco shops are closing, with one set to shutter as early as Friday, Jan. 31.

Owner Linda Kapnick could not be reached for comment.

Kapnick founded Ambassador Toys in San Francisco in 1997. She reportedly was frustrated with the toy market while shopping for her own children and decided to open a shop with inspiring and nurturing toys that would teach kids about the world around them.

Kapnick opened the Palo Alto site in 2008. During its 12 years at Town & Country Village, the shop was voted "Best Toy Store" or runner-up multiple times in the newspaper's annual "Best Of" edition that ranks the area's best businesses based on readers' votes. Ambassador Toys gained national recognition after The Toy Association nominated it as one of the five best specialty toy stores in the United States.

Palo Alto customers raved on Yelp about the the store's eclectic selection, including old favorites like a Slinky.

"Instead of buying at an 'everything,' big box store, you can come to a place like Ambassador Toys and know that everything has been vetted by the owners as something a kid would like," one customer commented.

Another called the Palo Alto site, "The cutest toy store I've seen in the Bay Area!"

Ambassador Toys is the third notable toy store to close its doors in Palo Alto in the past four years. Educational toy store Gray Matters on California Avenue closed last year, and longtime toy store Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World closed in 2017 after operating downtown for 87 years.

Related content:

A year in Shop Talk: 2019 openings and closings for Midpeninsula retailers, restaurants

Comments

Ambassador Toys...You'll be missed.
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2020 at 1:05 pm
Ambassador Toys...You'll be missed. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2020 at 1:05 pm
6 people like this

Over the years, I purchased many birthday and holiday gifts in your sweet little shop. I appreciated your gift wrapping service and knowledgeable staff who could always help me find the perfect gifts to delight each individual child.

Thank you...best wishes in your retirement.


Mother
East Palo Alto
on Jan 31, 2020 at 2:55 pm
Mother, East Palo Alto
on Jan 31, 2020 at 2:55 pm
Like this comment

I will miss going to the store with my son. He is 11 and still likes to go there to discover what's new. I was trying to buy gifts there or at Grey Matter, if possible.


oh no!
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2020 at 7:01 pm
oh no! , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2020 at 7:01 pm
2 people like this

I will also miss you!

Purchased fun puzzles and gifts for the new members of my extended family. The gift wrapping was great.

What do parents do these days? My kid is grown up but when she was little we had the Palo Alto toy and Sports shop, the art store, bought many a birthday gift there.

Have norms changed and maybe now people don't have parties or have to take gifts, are gift cards the replacement?


Reality
Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2020 at 9:04 pm
Reality, Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2020 at 9:04 pm
4 people like this

Kids are being raised on technology for fun and for babysitting. And it's more bang for the buck.

Those kiddie toys don't have staying power, they get boring fast. We lived in the Midwest and money grew on trees for us. I'd buy all these toys and they'd get tired of them within a week. The only ones that had staying power were the inflatable jump house and the electric Cadillac car, so buy those if you want a good gift. My kids are grown up and they would still use them if they could.


resident
Downtown North
on Feb 1, 2020 at 10:33 am
resident, Downtown North
on Feb 1, 2020 at 10:33 am
4 people like this

As rents go up, for both stores and employee housing, more and more small businesses like this are closing.


Elizabeth
Downtown North
on Feb 1, 2020 at 11:01 am
Elizabeth , Downtown North
on Feb 1, 2020 at 11:01 am
Like this comment

Oh No, norms haven't changed, we just go to the big toy sections in Target or Walmart instead. Or if we're looking for something specific, Amazon or Ebay.


KJH
another community
on Feb 1, 2020 at 1:48 pm
KJH, another community
on Feb 1, 2020 at 1:48 pm
2 people like this

This announcement makes me so sad! Every once in awhile, I'd say to myself, "At least Ambassador toys is still around". And soon it won't be.


A Fan
Mountain View
on Feb 1, 2020 at 3:26 pm
A Fan, Mountain View
on Feb 1, 2020 at 3:26 pm
5 people like this

My father, who is retired and barely wants to leave the house these days, always looked forward to going there with me around the holidays to shop for his grandkids. Seeing him in that store has been a highlight of my Christmas for a while now, it's like he regresses to his youth and he finds everything magical. We will miss you terribly but are happy for you to begin a new journey.


Bad Parent
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2020 at 3:44 pm
Bad Parent, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2020 at 3:44 pm
13 people like this

Toy shops are great but perhaps a thing of the past given these modern times.

My eight-year old brat asked for an iPhone 11 for his birthday.

When I pointed to a rusty lawnmower in the garage & suggested he start earning towards one, the kid then asked me for a Samsung Galaxy S10 figuring I'd get suckered in by getting him a costly Android instead.

Time to move out of the SF bay area.


Resident
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 3, 2020 at 2:35 am
Resident, Old Palo Alto
on Feb 3, 2020 at 2:35 am
1 person likes this

You can still buy Creey Crawlers 1960 version or the newer 1970 version online on eBay. They have plenty of plasti-goop available as well.
It's amazing I'm still alive breathing so much of the plasti-goop cooking in my bedroom, but I had some great critters.
I'm a biologist now, with an advanced degree in biochemistry.
I've probably breathed in more zylene, toluene, benzene, and formaldehyde, before I reached age 21 while working for college chemistry departments preparing solutions for their labs (saving for college), and also at Alza off shoot companies.
I'm over 60 and still ticking - no medical problems my entire life.
Fingers crossed.
Parents seemed overly protective of their kids getting getting burned, exposed to chemicals, etc. We all get burned at some point in the learning process, but hey, I'm a both a good cook and a scientist as well. I attribute this to being allowed to experiment and create things (creepy or delicious).
It's part of learning.
Frankly, I think the cell phones are far more damaging.


MVresident2003
Mountain View
on Feb 3, 2020 at 2:32 pm
MVresident2003, Mountain View
on Feb 3, 2020 at 2:32 pm
Like this comment

Adventure Toys in downtown Los Altos is great and like Ambassador, carries unique products


eileen
College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2020 at 9:15 pm
eileen , College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2020 at 9:15 pm
2 people like this

Super sad to hear about this loss. I worked for a toy/book company for years going to Toy fairs in Germany and Japan. I loved my time in Germany sourcing quality products for my company. Target does not carry the quality toys that Ambassador Toys did. Either does Amazon!!


Local parent
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2020 at 9:35 am
Local parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2020 at 9:35 am
1 person likes this

The toy sections at Target and Walmart kind of suck. The crazy thing is, they aren’t even really cheap a lot of the time. I’ve bought things at Ambassador toys that were unique, interesting, and competitively priced. Not everything, but a lot of their stuff. I’ve gone to Target, and left disgusted by the high price of certain toys. Or by the poor quality.

At ambassador toys, the toys are also curated. You can look at them in a welcoming environment.And then there was the free gift wrapping.

Sure seems to me that with individual things mailed to people one at a time in boxes with lots of packaging, we lose the opportunity to pick something up on the way to somewhere else. I even once ran into Steve Jobs himself at Palo Alto sport and toy, where he had walked to get something for his kid. It’s way easier to return to a physical location for larger stuff and clothing.

I think at some point, we’re going to have to get serious about ensuring that cities can own the land underneath retail areas, similar to the way that Stanford owns the land under its surrounding neighborhoods. It’s the only way Stanford can attract the faculty to neighborhoods that look like they would in the Midwest. The faculty can still own the houses, but they’re considerably below market and affordable.

Owning the land is the only way that cities can still have city halls, school districts offices, schools, and community centers. We’re going to have to start considering retail districts the same way.

It’s not environmentally friendly for people having to have to drive all over kingdom come to find stuff. The Internet is not an adequate substitute. There is a needle in the haystack aspect to finding stuff on the Internet, but browsing and comparing in a curated in person situation, such as looking for baby products at a baby store, isn’t the same.

I still miss many retail establishments in Palo Alto that immeasurably contributed to my quality-of-life and work. There is no Internet substitute for the pro side of Keeble and Shuchat, and the easy pick up and drop off of rental lenses. There’s no Internet substitute for shoe shopping in person. Period. Or browsing for art supplies that you’re not exactly sure even exist.

I’m not saying it isn’t great being able to find things that it doesn’t make sense to sell locally on the Internet. I just found water hardness measuring paper strips, really cheap, on the Internet last night. I would never want to bet on finding those at any given hardware store. But I also no longer have a place to compare and find sale memory chips or last minute anything like at Frys.I don’t know if anyone else has noticed but often the selection at Amazon is not what it’s cracked up to be, maybe because of how badly they treat their sellers I don’t know.

I know it’s been said a lot, but if the cities could own the land, then small businesses could be insulated from the escalating costs, and afford to pay their workers competitive wages. Cities could make it more possible for resident-serving small businesses to own rather than rent the locations, to prevent abuse/loss of retail areas such as by Palantir, and ensure all traditionally low-wage workers get better pay and the businesses more stable workforce. This gets more and more valuable to cities over time without costing more.

I will miss Ambassador toys.


Oh no
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2020 at 10:56 am
Oh no, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2020 at 10:56 am
Like this comment

Never thought that a toy store would need justification,
I wouldn’t go to Target for special gifts anymore than I’d only shop Amazon for books or stop going to Yosemite because I can see it online. I have great memories of the gifts I found at Ambassador toys (that my nieces or friends wouldn’t find at Target). Great story about gentleman shopping for his grandchildren. Also about toy buyer selecting unique items at toy fairs.

It is definitely environmentally better to have something in town both to avert driving to other cities to find gifts and to cut down on Amazon packaging/shipping which is not green at all.


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