ELK GROVE, Calif. — Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a specialty toy store tucked away in Elk Grove’s historic downtown is closing after nearly five years of business.
“I didn’t see this coming. I wasn’t planning on closing. I was definitely planning on going a few more years at least…,” said Suzie Franklin Roeser, owner of Gifts from the Heart of Elk Grove.
Franklin Roeser’s toy store specialized in gifts and arts and crafts. It was a decades-old childhood dream turned reality that brought people together in the spirit of creativity, education, and community.
For years, she loved the sight of families coming in, kids trying out new games and toys, and kids getting excited about learning. However, her ambitions of bringing people together, allowing people to “try before they buy,” providing classes, and having parties flew in contrast to health orders meant to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
“That was the first sign that I had that wait maybe this really isn’t a good idea. It took away all the joy of why people would want to come here,” said Franklin Roeser, in reference to telling kids they had to wear masks and refrain from touching items.
The store's last day is August 31, a day before its five-year anniversary.
These small local business closures are a big concern for Elk Grove’s Economic Development Director Darrel Doan.
“A small locally-owned business on our Main Street is probably not in a position to weather what’s been six months now of closures,” said Doan, adding that he suspects some temporary closures seen in the city’s historic downtown area might become permanent.
Earlier in the year, Doan spent most of his time trying to attract non-retail businesses to the city, however, plans changed due to the coronavirus. Instead of luring in businesses, he spent the past six months doing crisis support for local businesses and creating loan programs, grant programs, mask distributions, shop local campaigns, and more.
“It’s not enough. We don’t have the resources to save every business,” said Doan. “I can’t write everybody a check, but what resources we do have, we’re trying to put on the street.”
Doan said there’s been a wave of national retail closures that have impacted Elk Grove and other communities in the region.
Names like Pier 1 and Stein Mart announced business closures in the city due to impacts from the coronavirus pandemic, but Doan added some additional context, noting that the virus doesn’t shoulder all the weight for that decision. He said those stores were having issues well before the pandemic.
“I think what COVID did is it… brought that to a logical conclusion for a lot of businesses, a lot of national retailers that were already struggling,” Doan said. “That’s when you talk about Dick’s (Sporting Goods) and Stein Mart and Dress Barn and Pier 1.”
He said those weren’t unexpected closures, and they weren’t strictly because of COVID. In the end and moving forward, those buildings will eventually get re-leased and re-tenanted even if it takes a bit of a wait.
“A lot of your beloved national retailers were in trouble well before COVID, so those closures… they’re not because of the COVID. The small local Main Street kind of business, those closures are because of COVID,” Doan said.
The small local business closures are a bit different.
“I think a small local business, like Gifts from the Heart [of Elk Grove]… there’s an emotional connection there that you probably don’t have to a Walmart or McDonald’s,” Doan said.
It’s a notion echoed by Franklin Roeser, who said the best part of her job was interacting with all the people who came to her store.
“I’m definitely going to miss what I’ve done,” she said. “I think the hardest thing is going to be all the wonderful people I’ve met. There’s so many people that I never would have met if I never had this storefront.”
While store closure signs and vacant buildings might pop up in the city, Doan wants to assure his community that “this too shall pass.”
He described the current impact on businesses as a “mixed bag,” noting that businesses faced various factors both before and during the pandemic. When it comes to sales, he said the city's been able to sustain itself on sales tax due to businesses like Apple and Costco.
As the pandemic and uncertainties continue, he’s urging people to shop local as much as possible.
“Don’t take your money to Delta Shores. Don’t take your money to Arden Fair. Don’t take your money to the Galleria in Roseville. Shop local,” Doan said. “Buy everything that you can in an Elk Grove store, because that’s just critical right now on so many different levels.”
Even though she'll be closing her doors, Franklin Roeser said the local support helped her stay in business for a few more months.
“To the mom and pop kind of stores that don’t have the resources to kind of spread the loss around, it is everything to have that support of the community,” she said.