By Abbie Hurwitz & Caroline Barry
“You basically never grow up if you work here.”
That’s what Ms. Allison Grasso, manager of Learning Express and WHS alumna ‘08, said she experiences on a daily basis. Located on Quimby Street in Westfield, this local toy store is true to its name, specializing in educational toys and games for kids, like Rubik’s Cubes and puzzles.
Two recent trends the store has seen were the Rainbow Loom, colorful rubber bands that can be woven into bracelets, and grocery store-themed characters called Shopkins. Because of high demand for Rainbow Looms, the store used to offer classes on Rainbow Loom techniques and skills. “There was one time we were in a tornado watch...and we were getting a shipment [of Rainbow Loom bands] and people waited outside during the tornado watch to get them,” said Grasso.
In order for the staff to remain up to date on upcoming toy trends, the employees at Learning Express attend the annual Toy Fair in New York City, where attendees are able to preview upcoming crazes. According to Grasso, this is one of the best parts of her job.
“People are always looking for the new and exciting product, but it’s really the tried and true stuff that’s been around forever, like Legos,” said Sales Associate Ms. Kelly Stryker.
The store is organized by age and type of product, offering a wide range of books, sports equipment, crafting kits, stuffed animals and more. With popular brands like Lego, Calico Critters and Klutz, shoppers can find what they need and beyond. The bright and vibrant displays are exciting for kids and parents alike.
Of course, even a toy store employee’s job is not all fun and games. Certain times of the year are particularly busy. Said Stryker: “Can you imagine working at a toy store before Christmas and Hanukkah?... You’re working as fast as you can to try to keep everyone calm and make sure everyone gets taken care of.... It’s exhausting, really.
Learning Express is not only about the toys. The close environment and connections are also a very important part of the store. The employees at Learning Express form relationships with the Westfield community. “Working here, I met a little boy in his mom’s stomach and watched him grow up, and he’s now five,” said Grasso. “That’s what I like, the small community interaction.