Saying goodbye to the Academic Toolbox

After 17 years selling educational toys and learning tools to local parents and teachers, Dwight and Sharon Byers are closing up shop. The Academic Toolbox will shut on Dec. 17. Until then, everything in the store is on sale. Right now, the entire inventory is going for 20% off regular prices. By next week, that should be up to 30% off.

The decision to close the store comes after months of declining sales and an especially poor back-to-school season. Sharon and Dwight put the building up for sale and, to their surprise, it sold fast. Now they need to be out before Christmas. From a Facebook post announcing the closure: “online sales have been our demise. We fought the battle and lost.” More than 100 people commented on the post, offering thanks to the couple for their years of friendship and lamenting the closure. A lot of the comments went something like this one from a local mom:

“I cried today, you guys have been a part of our life for 17 years…I waddled in there pregnant with our first child and have made memories since. You guys have shown such love for the children in our community.”

“We weighed all the options, from moving to another smaller location, to building, to everything else,” Sharon said. But it was time to close. Sharon and Dwight are not retiring, however. Dwight, 68, is taking online classes to become a life coach. Sharon, 66, is weighing her options.

“I’m not sure what I want to do when I grow up,” she said. As a former preschool teacher, she’d like to find something to do with kids, learning, and maybe even the retail side of things as a consultant to daycares, preschools and other groups that need to buy a lot of toys and could use advice.

As we talked, Sharon referred again and again to her “kids” and I had to clarify that, yes, she was talking about her costumers — all the little people she has watched grow up over the years.

“We loved our kids. We made awesome friends… And lately, just when I think I can’t cry anymore, I walk out and there’s a teacher in the store crying.”

And children have been crying in the store lately too, she said, when Mom or Dad tell them the toy shop is closing. “And you can’t explain to these little people exactly why.”

So this is your warning: If you stop by the store one last time between now and Dec. 17, you may see some crying. You’ll probably also hear folks express their gratitude for this wonderful little gem of a store. You may get a hug (“We’re here with open arms, and hugs are free.”) And you’ll definitely find good deals on really nice toys. Sharon said they’ve still got lots of science stuff on the shelves, but it’s all going fast. They’ve already sold out of Calico Critters, but there’s still plenty of stuff for babies and tons of stocking stuffer ideas. And there are still a few of the popular Corolle dolls on the shelves. (“I always called them the grandma dolls, because grandmas were the only ones who could afford them.”) She expects every last toy to sell. It’s the educational tools for teachers that may not move. If there’s any inventory left over after the 17th, Sharon said she’ll donate it to local alternative schools.

“When we walk out of the store for the last time, if we have all of our debts paid and we have a dollar in our pockets, we’ll be happy. And I’ll take my dollar to McDonald’s and I will celebrate.”

Info: 667-8746 or academictoolbox.com. Location: 2127 N. Wenatchee Ave.

(Wenatchee World file photos/Mike Irwin. In the second photo: Dwight Byers, co-owner of the Academic Toolbox, straightens shelves of Corolle baby dolls in 2012.)

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