Another vacancy in the 100 block of King Street will welcome in 2004 for Old Town. Imaginarium, located at 118 King Street, has fallen victim to the corporate ax.
No later than Jan. 31, all "freestanding Imaginarium and Kids "R" Us stores" will be history, according to John H. Eyler, Jr, chairman and chief executive officer for Toys "R" Us, the parent corporation. "The company plans to close 146 freestanding Kids "R" Us and the 36 freestanding Imaginarium stores as well as three distribution centers that support these stores," he said.
"Our efforts to reverse significant performance declines within the freestanding stores have not met with success. The accelerating deterioration in the financial performance of these freestanding stores has led us to conclude that it is in the best interests of our company and our shareholders to cease operation of these freestanding stores," Eyler said.
"This will enable us to refocus our efforts to ensure that our most productive divisions and formats are best positioned to deliver the returns that we, and our shareholders want," he said.
Freestanding stores are those that exist outside a Toys "R" Us structure. Babies "R" Us, another division, will remain operative at this time.
ALTHOUGH NO actual percentages for Imaginarium were released, Toys "R" Us did reveal that Kids "R" Us business reported an 11.4 percent decline for the third quarter of 2003. "These actions [the closings] are expected to improve operating earning by an estimated $8 million in 2004 and approximately $20 million annually thereafter," according to corporate.
The company has been battered by Wal Mart Stores, Corp., the nation's largest toy merchant, making early holiday cuts in prices. Analysts attributed this action by Wal Mart to have contributed to Toys "R" Us' poor third quarter showing.
Eyler expressed confidence that they can go toe-to-toe with Wal Mart and other competitors during the holiday buying season because of their ability to have popular items in their inventory right up to Christmas Day. Market analysts have raised doubts about this theory due to like predictions last year that failed to materialize.
Nationwide, the shutdown will impact nearly 3,800 employees. Toys "R" Us has promised to make every attempt to relocate as many as possible into other stores.
The Alexandria store opened with 18 employees in 2001. They would not divulge how many are presently on the payroll.
When informed of the impending loss of another business in the heart of Old Town, Ken Moore, executive director, Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, expressed surprise and disappointment. "This is a real loss to the community," he said.
"Having another vacancy on King Street is definitely not a good thing. Particularly at this time of the year," Moore said.
Imaginarium opened two years ago this past September as one half of the revamped "Small Mall." The other half is the Discovery Channel next door.
New Jersey-based Toys "R" Us acquired Imaginarium in 1999. But it has never released performance figures. Kids "R" Us has been unprofitable for several years, according to financial analysts.
PRODUCTS AT the Imaginarium catered to children's fantasy from birth to preteen, with particular emphasis on educational toys. Old Town's store was one of the larger ones in Northern Virginia. There are five others in the region — Reston and Arlington in Virginia and Gaitherburg, Olney and Potomac in Maryland.
Just last week store manager Bryan Egan was displaying the store's latest additions for the upcoming holiday season. They even published a multipage/multicolor advertising insert in the Gazette featuring their latest items for the season.
Most of the merchandise in both Imaginarium and Kids "R" Us stores will be liquidated with the remaining items being absorbed into Toys "R" Us, according to a company spokesperson. Many of these stores already have sections catering to shoppers looking for items featured in the stores scheduled for eradication.
"We don't expect to close the stores before Christmas, but no final decision has been made on that at this point," said Pam Faatz, manager, Public Relations/Corporate Communications. "But, all will be gone by January 31."
No word was available at press time as to any pre-holiday sales.