Beloved Toy Shop Faces Forced Shutdown

Concord, Massachusetts, is known for its Revolutionary War history, its legendary authors and, these days, for a quaint downtown filled with unique, homegrown stores like The Toy Shop of Concord.

But now the store, which first opened in 1942, is looking at a forced shutdown on June 29. The reason: A money dispute with a new landlord they say is trying to force them to pay $80,000 in sudden, retroactive, new maintenance charges from the past five years - and won't tell them what their new rent will be unless they pay up.

It's heartbreaking for loyal shoppers like Candace Root of Concord, who has three young sons.

"My kids love coming here," Root said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. "They love walking down here, looking around the toy store, and we're here probably at least once a month, if not more, buying gifts for kids around town."

It's a toy store with no electronics, no Barbies, mostly just timeless classics, anchoring the corner of Walden and Main Streets in the heart of town.

"It's one of our family's favorite places," Root said.

Owner David Hesel, who has been, as he says, "the caretaker" of the community institution since 1988, said he's had to move ahead with plans for a 25 percent liquidation sale starting Thursday and a shutdown June 29, with his 14 staff getting laid off. Hesel said the new landlord – whom town assessors and state corporation records identify as Francis J. Foley of Wyndcliff Drive in Acton – gave Hesel no choice when he took over control of the building last July 1.

"As we were in the process of beginning talking about the lease, we got a bill from the new landlord for $80,000," five years' worth of back bills for things like maintenance, taxes and hearing that the old owners always covered from the rent checks paid by Hesel and a neighboring stationery store and insurance agency.

Foley, Hesel said, won't even tell the Toy Shop what its new rent will be starting July 1 until they pay up the $80,000, and has threatened to sue Hesel personally if the store won't pay the money.

Besides considering the $80,000 demand unjust and unreasonable, Hesel said he also just can't afford it, and can't responsibly keep moving ahead without knowing what his rent will be six weeks from now.

"We can't run a business that way," Hesel said.

So while he doesn't rule out possibly coming to a deal, Hesel is moving ahead with plans to liquidate his inventory, and has been looking, without success so far, for another location in Acton or West Concord or elsewhere. His heart is, he admits, far more attached to the idea of continuing a Toy Shop business at the place more than three generations have known and loved it.

Necn couldn't reach Foley by phone Wednesday, but his attorney, Michael Katin of Acton, said he would dispute the $80,000 figure Hesel is citing. Katin said that "there are private negotiations over rent that are ongoing," but confirmed that "they are at a low point" and a deal may well not be reached.

"We have to say that this may not happen, and so we have to start the process of liquidating," Hesel said.

Concord voters have overwhelmingly approved measures to keep chain businesses out of the downtown area and tried to preserve it as a bastion of homegrown shops and stores.

Still, Carol Morse of Westford, who has shopped at The Toy Shop for her children and grandchildren for 40 years, said, "I really fear for the future of downtown Concord."

Many in town worry about the possibility of something lifeless like a bank or real-estate office taking the prominent corner location of The Toy Shop.
"This is one of the anchors of downtown Concord," said Morse.

For Candace Root, it's about more than her boys, Owen, Parker and Augie, losing a place they love. Without The Toy Shop at the head of Walden Street, Root said, "It would not be the same. This is just classic Concord."

With videographer John J. Hammann

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