Shop that inspired ‘Toy Story’ is closing, citing ‘perils’ of San Francisco

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Jeffrey’s Toys, the family-run shop that inspired the Toy Story movies, is closing its doors after 86 years, becoming the latest business to join San Francisco’s retail exodus.

The shop “has been struggling for a number of years,” the family’s attorney, Ken Sterling, said in a statement, citing “perils and violence of the downtown environment, inflation, the decrease in consumer spending and the demise of retail across the world.”

The family was “saddened” over the decision to shutter the store and had “explored all other options to try and keep the business going,” the statement said. The store will permanently close Feb. 10 after four generations of family management, Sterling said in an email interview, adding that he believes that it may be the oldest toy store in San Francisco.

Matthew Luhn, the store’s co-owner, grew up working at his family’s store and eventually landed a job at Pixar as one of 12 animators working on “Toy Story,” SFGate reported.

“We would have my dad come to give us ideas,” Luhn told the outlet. “And when we did reference for almost all the ‘Toy Story’ films, we always went to Jeffrey’s Toys.” Luhn worked at Pixar for 20 years as an animator, writer and story director, SFGate reported.

According to its website, Jeffrey’s Toys was founded in 1938 as a variety shop called Birdie’s, named after its founder, Birdie Luhn. In 1953, it started exclusively selling toys after the post-World War II baby boom led to a surge in customers, it said. In 1966, the store was renamed Jeffrey’s Toys after Birdie’s grandson, the website said.

On Jan. 23, the store wrote on Facebook that it was making its way to “the Finish Line” and announced a final sale. It thanked customers for their support, adding: “It’s been Fun.” One person wrote that the decision marked the “end of an era,” while others said they were “heartbroken” at the news.

Jeffrey’s Toys is among the latest stores to close in downtown San Francisco, with many businesses citing crime, rising costs and the fallout from the pandemic. In December, Luhn told SFGate that the rent on the family’s 45 Kearny St. store had risen to $20,000 per month.

The increases in remote work during the pandemic and in crime in San Francisco also affected the family business, Luhn told SFGate. The decrease in office workers meant less foot traffic, he said. He also said that shop employees had faced physical abuse and shoplifting, noting that one female employee quit after being threatened with a knife.

In the email interview, Sterling, the lawyer, urged city officials to take steps to improve the area, noting that they should “prosecute crimes that have been plaguing retailers for several years, address the houseless challenge and have more police patrols in the downtown area.”

As retailers leave some cities, one grocery chain is trying to stay

Other retailers in San Francisco have also cited concern for their employees’ safety, among others, as a reason to leave the area.

Anthropologie closed its Union Square location last year, alongside a flagship Whole Foods Market that had opened just 13 months prior. Whole Foods said it was closing the store because of concerns over employee safety, with the New York Times reporting at the time that more than 500 emergency calls were made during those 13 months.

In September, clothing retailer American Eagle sued Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, owner of the Westfield San Francisco Centre shopping mall, alleging “full neglect” and accusing the operator of allowing the venue to “deteriorate into disarray.” The company said in the lawsuit that its employees had been exposed to gun violence, physical assaults and robberies.

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Also last year, Nordstrom announced that it was shuttering two stores in downtown San Francisco, citing the “dramatically” changed dynamics of the market that affected its “ability to operate successfully.” In a statement at the time, Westfield San Francisco Centre, one of the locations Nordstrom left, blamed businesses’ closures on “unsafe conditions for customers, retailers, and employees, coupled with the fact that these significant issues are preventing an economic recovery of the area.”

Just weeks before Jeffrey’s announced that it was closing, Luhn said that every year, the family resolves to “hold on one more year” but eventually ends up using retirement funds to keep the business afloat.

“My dad and I, we’re not quitters. We just don’t come from a quitter family,” he said.

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