Kids love to play and explore in Mr. Mopps’ toy store, which will soon be opening a bookstore. Photo: Bravo Your City

By Camille Baptista

The beloved 51-year-old toy store Mr. Mopps’ is preparing to open a bookstore this fall just two doors down from its space on Martin Luther King Jr. Way at Rose Street.

Owner Devin McDonald, who bought and reopened the toy store with his partner Jenny Stevenson in 2010 after the previous owners retired, said this is something they’ve wanted to do since then.

“We’ve always wanted to have a good book selection,” McDonald said. “We spent the first couple years of our business really trying to stock up on toys … [Now] we are able to finalize this dream we had.”

Under the previous owner, Eugene Yamashita, Mr. Mopps’ leased an extension space next to the toy store that was filled with children’s books. When Yamashita had to close down the business, he sold most of the books and ended the book room lease. McDonald said that by the time he and Stevenson took over, almost all the books were gone and the owner of the adjacent property had leased to a new tenant. Music Connects, which runs instrument lessons and drum circles, now occupies that space.

The new book store will move in where Grove Antiques used to be, at 1417-A Martin Luther King Jr. Way next to the Mr. Mopps’ warehouse, which is painted with a mural of a cat with laser-beam eyes.

After Grove Antiques closed, McDonald said, the space needed renovation due to water leakage and other problems. The fix-up was finished recently, and a couple of weeks ago, he and Stevenson learned that the space was available for lease. They jumped at the opportunity.

Mr. Mopps’ reopened in 2010, and put up a shiny new sign last year. Photo: Bravo Your City

The Mr. Mopps’ owners are now in the process of overseeing sheet rock installation, after which they will begin prepping, painting, putting in new floors, and installing shelves. The momentous task of ordering books is also on their to-do list.

“A lot of the stuff that I’m going to be ordering is stuff that I’m familiar with from reading it to kids and reading it myself,” McDonald, who worked as a childcare provider for 15 years.

“It’s kind of a combination of books that I love, books that get reviews, and books that I think look cute,” he added with a laugh.

He and Stevenson are also accepting suggestions from community members, and have already received a few lists from kids. They have tentative plans to buy and sell used books in the new space as well.

McDonald explained that having a distinct separate location for books will be beneficial in some ways. He wants to create a “totally immersive literary environment for kids” — and said a number of local authors have already contacted the store about setting up readings.

“I think there’s something very special about places that are kind of geared just for kids, and I think kids really respond to that,” he said.

He explained that they have tried to do readings in the toy store before, but because kids are often coming in and playing there, the setting was a bit chaotic.

The owners focused on stocking up on toys when they first took over Mr. Mopps’. Photo: Bravo Your City

McDonald said he believes the new bookstore will be the only one in Berkeley, and possibly in the surrounding area, dedicated solely to children’s literature. Although online sales have driven many small bookstores out of business in recent years, Berkeley has managed to maintain a relatively healthy number of independent sellers. (Despite the closing of Cody’s Books in 2006, Moe’s Books, Pegasus Books, Black Oak Books, Mrs. Dalloway’s and Books Inc. all remain.)

“The community we live in here is really supportive of small businesses and appreciates the fact that you can go in and check things out,” as opposed to ordering them online, MacDonald said. He added that customers get very excited whenever he tells them about the soon-to-be bookstore.

Having grown up close by, McDonald himself was a loyal customer of the toy store throughout his childhood. Recently, when going through old belongings, he found his first teddy bear — purchased at Mr. Mopps’ many years ago.

Although he said he knows the demand for children’s toy stores and bookstores is not what it used to be, the reaction from the community about the book store news has made him confident that his dream is achievable.

“It’s exciting — it’s reassuring,” he said. “And I think it’s a business that can really succeed.”

Book recommendations for the new store are welcome and encouraged from people of all ages. Email mrmoppsbooks@gmail.com.

Mr Mopps’ new owners cut ribbon on reopened toy store (02.21.11)
Thanks from Mr Mopps’
Berkeley couple buys Mr Mopps’ toy store (10.15.10)
Mr Mopps’ toy store formally on the market (06.09.10)
Buyers circling Mr Mopps’ (04.10.10)
Mr Mopps, Berkeley’s beloved toy store, is closing (03.24.10)

Camille Baptista is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She grew up in Berkeley and now studies at Barnard in New York City, where she writes for the Columbia Daily Spectator.

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