Jeffrey's Toys returns to San Francisco after two years

- It’s not an easy time to be a toy.

Last month, Toys R Us, hobbled by $5 billion in debt, filed for bankruptcy ahead of the holiday shopping season. The retailer will keep its stores open as online leader Amazon increasingly exerts its influence over a huge part of the retailing world, including toys.

Also last month, Lego announced layoffs following a drop in sales for the first time in 13 years.

Shoppers are clearly buying their putty toys and fidget spinners on their smart phones.

But none of this has deterred Mark Luhn and his wife Rosie Coronado-Luhn from this month reopening Jeffrey's Toys in San Francisco’s Financial District, two years after it closed its store on Market Street.

“The toy store,’’ said Mark Luhn. “It’s gotta be here. “There are people who want to touch (the toys), they want to see them.”

For some, he says, it’s akin to such staples as the corner liquor store or the neighborhood laundromat.

Workers know the familiar faces, customers get insider tips on new merchandise (including comics) and almost everyone finds what they need.  

“Eighty percent of what we have you can’t find in Target or Toys R Us,’’ said Luhn, 70.

 Jeffrey’s has also received a level of notoriety over the years.

The couple’s son, Matthew Luhn, worked for Pixar in the mid-1990s when work on the “Toy Story” movie was getting underway. The company knew he grew up around toys and he brought in some childhood favorites—Slinkies and Mr. Potato Head, which were used for inspiration for the movie, said Rosie Coronado-Luhn.

Jeffrey’s is also said to be the first American store to carry Legos, she said.

But it hasn’t been all good news for the store.

In 2015, after 45 years on Market Street, Jeffrey’s was pushed out because of rent hikes. The couple opened another store on bustling Fourth Street in Berkeley, which will remain open, and kept up efforts to return to San Francisco.

Luhn said they considered 28 different San Francisco locations before opting for the spot at 45 Kearny St. (and Maiden Lane). It was formerly occupied by the Asian Art Center.

Doors opened Oct. 4, even as they were still unpacking boxes.

“We did a soft opening because we had customers knocking at the door and looking through the windows,’’ said Rosie Coronado-Luhn.

A grand opening, with a balloon artist, free popcorn, raffles and the latest merchandise on display, is Friday and Saturday, the couple said.

The start of Jeffrey’s Toys actually began in 1938 when Luhn’s grandparents, Morton and Birdie Luhn, opened a five and dime variety store in the San Francisco Bay Area called “Birdies Variety” store. They sold everything from housewares to hardware, and even toys.

With the Baby Boom, came a high demand for toys and the name of the store was changed to “Birdie’s Toy House” and only sold toys. The couple’s sons, Manny and Joel, got involved and later Morton and Birdie retired. The toy stores (there once were five in the Bay Area) were renamed after Manny’s youngest son, Jeffrey.

“People still call me Jeff,’’ said Luhn. “And my brother still continues to go around bragging about it.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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