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.


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