Friday, September 23, 2016

Learning Express Toy Store and Play Center Concept Opens in Bedford Marketplace

Learning Express Toy Store and Play Center located at 168 Great Road in Bedford Marketplace is now open. The new concept, which combines a toy store with children’s activity center and play museum is the first of its kind for Learning Express which operates over 125 toy stores across the United States. The company got its start in 1987 with its first store in Acton Massachusetts.

I recently spoke with Learning Express Marketing Director Lauren Derse. Lauren explained that while its stores are normally franchises, this is a new concept so the Bedford location is their first company owned store. The new space consists of 7500 square feet divided between a traditional toy store and play space known as Downtown Play.

The downtown play space includes lots of miniature stores and outdoor items.
The downtown play space consists of ten themed play areas fashioned after a traditional New England town. The play area includes a general store, veterinary clinic, performing arts center, 1950's diner, gymnasium with a rock-climbing wall, an infant play area, a fire house and more. The play space is designed for kids ages 6 months to about 8 years.

The studio features 45 minute classes focusing on movement, dance, art, music, science and more.
Lauren explained that while the business has been around for almost 30 years, the retail toy industry has undergone a lot of changes resulting in a lot of mom and pop toys stores closing down in the last five years.

The infant play area is designed for babies that are not yet able to walk on their own.
With the shift to online sales, Lauren explained that Learning Express really want to focus on the experiences that can only be achieved by visiting a store.

The general store is almost a full replica with working shopping carts and a functional cash register.
The general concept is parents pay $14.99 per child for up to 3 hours of what is known as open play in the downtown play space. While a parent must stay near the child for open play, there is no cost to the parent. With the location in the Bedford Marketplace, Lauren envisions many cases where one parent stays with the kid while the other parent gets some shopping done.

2nd floor view from the downtown place. Note the slide for kids to ride down to the first floor.
In addition to open play, they also offer a dozens of different classes designed for Children broken down by age. Each class is 45 minutes and is provides an environment for kids to explore and discover. Each class  repeats weekly and are available on a monthly plan, you can trial a class for free.

The slide exits out of the fire station..

Lauren also mentioned that down the road they will offer a three hour date night program where a couple can drop off their child and then head out for dinner and more. As part of the program, they are looking to partner with other businesses in the Bedford Marketplace (for example a special promotion for an appetizer with dinner).

The play area includes a tiny train station. Note the colors match those at Depot Park.
Lauren commented that Learning Express really liked the location in Bedford Marketplace and Bedford has a high percentage of kids which fits their demographics. They've been out in the local community for the past few months and they really love the town.

The Gymnasium is nearly 1000 square feet and has dozens of activities.
The new play center will also do Birthday parties. Each party includes 90 minutes of 'facilitated' fun with cake followed by one hour of open play.

The gymnasium also features a mini rock wall.
Between the play space and the toy store is a snack cafe. The food is provided through a partnership with Prince Street Cafe.  The kids menu focuses on organic snacks and the food items do not contain peanuts. For adults there is a selection of Yogurt, Coffee and other beverages. The cafe will be open whenever the open play is open.

The toy store is modeled after other Learning Express toy stores with a focus on products that promote childhood development such as Melissa & Doug.

Finishing touches were being made as the store readied for its grand opening..
Lauren remarked that while they are all very excited about this new concept, this will be a experiment for them. The company overall will be working closely with the Bedford store to gather lots of feedback and making adjustment as needed. Once they get it working well the hope to replicate it in other locations.

The Paws & Claws clinic features stuffed animals for kids to practice on as a Veterinarian.

The Grand opening for this new concept runs includes special guest for kids such as Elmo, Peppa from Paw Patrol and Cinderella. They also plan to features contests, raffles and special promotions.

Lots of stroller parking is available.
Learning Express is open from 10 am to 9 pm Monday through Saturday and 9 am to 7 pm on Sundays.

1. While Learning Express is now just opening, they have already been involved in the community for many months. It's good to see a company make the investment.

2. It's interesting that Bedford was once again chosen as the location to test a new concept for an existing company. Panerea Bread did the same thing two years ago with its takeout and delivery concept.

3. If the concept is successful, I predict it will be a big driver of traffic for the Bedford Marketplace and be very beneficial for the other businesses. Overall it seems the Bedford Marketplace renovation will be successful. There are only a few vacant spaces left at the Bedford Marketplace and those are under discussion to be leased.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Subway is now Open in Bedford Marketplace

The Bedford Subway has reopened at 158E Great Road in Bedford Marketplace between b.good and Simply Nails & Spa. The restaurant, which closed last October for the Bedford Marketplace renovation, had it's soft opening on Wednesday.

The new seating area incorporates art work, LED lightning and a mixture of seating styles including high tops.
I recently spoke with Harry one of the owners. According to Harry, while the new location has 18 seats just like the old location, it's features a totally new interior design known as Metro Decor.

The focal point of Subways Metro Decor is the stone wall displaying a metal version of the iconic Subway logo .
The high ceilings give it a more spacious feel.
While Harry is happy to be in the new space, he's more excited that a good portion of his original employees choose to come back to his store.

While many people think of Subway as a lunch place, they also offer a variety of all day Breakfast items. Note the menu board now list calories which will be a FDA requirement on May 5, 2017.
While most of the menu is carryover, next week the restaurant will be introducing wraps which are only currently available at a small percentage of Subway locations.

The restaurant offer both self service and bottled drinks.
The checkout station has added new payment methods including Apple Pay and through the Subway App. Harry mentioned these have become quite popular.

The new Point of Sale system has contact less options.
Subway has the most locations of any restaurant with over 26,000 in the United States and 44,000 world wide. In August, Subway unveiled a new logo as shown below.

The new Subway logo is on the bottom. Initially only new locations that open after 2016 will use the new logo.
The rest of the stores will be Grandfathered with the older logo for a while.

The new restaurant is open from 7 am to 9 pm Monday through Friday and 9 am to 9 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Harry expect a more formal Grand Opening in the next few weeks.

With Subway opening, Bedford Marketplace now has six restaurants (eight if you count Whole Foods and the snack counter at Learning Express). There has been some talk of adding one more restaurant but that is still up in the air.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

An Update on Bedford Marketplace

An update on Bedford Marketplace.

The Bedford Post Office has signed a lease in the space next to Bruegger's Bagels & Jamba Juice. This will be the retail space for the post office and is expected to open by February. This will replace the two temporary trailers near Red Heat that the post office has been operating out of since last September. Currently there are no plans to bring a local distribution center back to Bedford. Mail to and from Bedford will continue to be sorted at the Burlington mail distribution facility.

This is expected to be the permanent location for the Bedford Post Office.
After some delays, Subway is finally expected to open in the next few weeks. This will be the fourth restaurant on the block.

Now hiring signs and a opening soon banner have gone up.
Simply Nails & Spa recently had it's grand opening. The Spa has an additional location in Cohasset MA.

The Spa opened September 9th and is still celebrating their Grand Opening.
Construction work has been completed on Learning Express Toys. This Flagship store will include a new concept called Learning Express Play. This will include a children’s activity center and play museum for children ages 6 months through age 8. This store is expected to open on September 23rd. Stay tuned for more details.

While Learning Express has over 120 location, the Bedford store will be the first to include a 1,000-square-foot children’s gymnasium with a rock-climbing wall.
As previously reported, Brookline Bank moved in to their Permanent location on September 12th.

The Bank is located at the very front of the Marketplace. The space runs across an entire block on Great Road.

American Family Care will be opening a Bedford location of their Urgent Care & Walk in Clinics at 154 Great Road which is located between Red Heat and Lincoln Liquors. This space was the temporary location of Brookline Bank. American Family Care currently operate over 160 urgent care clinics across the United States. The Bedford location is expected to be open 7 days a week.

Interior work for the new clinic is expected to start shortly.
Now that most of the rented spaces are now open and most of the reconstruction and landscaping of the Marketplace has been completed, it seems like it would be a good time to hold a Grand Opening celebration for the entire Bedford Marketplace.

There are still about a half dozen retail units still available for lease in Bedford Marketplace. What type of stores would you like to see added to the Marketplace?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Brookline Bank Moves to it's Permanent Location in Bedford Marketplace

The Bedford Branch of Brookline Bank has moved to it's permanent location at 168 Great Road in Bedford Marketplace. The Bank moved to a temporary location next to Red Heat last October while a new building was being constructed. The bank is the first tenant to open in this building (Learning Express is scheduled to open later this month).

Similar to Bank of America, Brookline Bank has a corner location with frontage along Great Road.
I recently spoke with Assistant Branch Manager Karyn Carter who has worked at the Bedford branch for over 13 years. According to Karyn, they are very glad to be back in their original location in a new building with additional exposure on Great Road.

The new lobby is much more spacious and inviting.
To celebrate their new location, Brookline Bank is having a Grand Opening Week starting on September 19th. According to Karyn, the bank is providing a complimentary continental breakfast each morning along with a daily raffle. All the raffle prizes are for other merchants in Bedford Marketplace.

A sign just outside the Bank promoting their grand opening.
While the Bank has vacated it's temporary space, it will be leased to AFC Urgent Care which is expect to open later this year.

The backside of the building. Brookline Bank has signs on three sides of the building.
With it's premium location, Brookline Bank should get a lot more exposure.

As shown in the above picture, the back of all the stores in the new building face alongside the main access road in to Bedford Marketplace giving it a very industrial appearance. It would be interesting to have local artists paint murals on the back of each retail unit. This would both improve it's appearance and enable artists to showcase their work and also would be a great opportunity for the owners of Bedford Marketplace to get more involved in the local community.