Local Children's Bookstore Changes Owners, Stays Open

Photo: Mr. Mopps' Children's Books and Toys, slated to close last March, was acquired by two new owners and only briefly shut down for renovations.
Karen Ling/Staff
Mr. Mopps' Children's Books and Toys, slated to close last March, was acquired by two new owners and only briefly shut down for renovations.

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After being slated to close last spring, Mr. Mopps' Children's Books and Toys, an iconic Berkeley business that has been around since 1962, is now operating under new ownership.

Berkeley native Devin McDonald and his girlfriend Jenny Stevenson bought the business from Eugene Yamashita in October. According to McDonald, Yamashita - who had owned the business with his wife Jean since 1965 - wanted to retire and had tried unsuccessfully to sell the store for about six months before deciding to shut down last March.

McDonald and Stevenson first discovered that Mr. Mopps', where McDonald had frequented as a child, was closing from a March 24 post on Berkeleyside that garnered much attention from the Berkeley community.

Following the post and the creation of a "Let's Buy Mr. Mopps!" Facebook page, Yamashita put the business back on the market.

"We immediately started looking into it, but we didn't have the financial means, so we had to get a loan," McDonald said.

The acquisition of Mr. Mopps' took about seven months, and while McDonald and Stevenson now own the business, they still rent the space and warehouse from Yamashita. During the ownership rollover, Mr. Mopps' stayed open, closing only for a month after the holiday season in order to undergo minor renovations.

"So far it's been really nice," said store employee and McDonald's brother Emilio Garcia, who had never been in the store before his first day on the job. "It's a fun, relaxed environment to work in."

Neither of the two new owners have prior business experience - McDonald was a nanny for 15 years, and Stevenson splits her time between Mr. Mopps' and hairstyling.

McDonald said his experience as a nanny made him more comfortable about purchasing the business.

"I was doing research inadvertently about what kids like to play with," he said. "The smaller details of running a business is where we initially got caught up."

Mr. Mopps' does not carry many items from mainstream children's TV shows, such as Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants. Instead, classic children's books line the shelves. Though one display carries a wide assortment of Nerf guns, for the most part, the toys and books "are a little more cerebral and imagination-inspiring," McDonald said.

"I used to beg my parents to come here, and I would save tooth fairy money and allowance ... kind of elementary budgeting lessons," he said. "I still see that now; I see little kids coming in with their bags of change they've saved."

Maryion Griffiths, who was browsing in the store for the first time on Tuesday, said she was pleased at the assortment of science books she found.

"I found what I wanted," she said, holding a book on chemistry. "I would bring my little nephew here."

While Mr. Mopps' attracts a variety of shoppers - old and new - McDonald said the store has retained loyal customers over the past 49 years.

"Generations of kids have been coming here," he said. "There are great-grandparents who brought their children in and now are bringing their great-grandchildren in."


Contact Emma Dries at [email protected]

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