‘From the Gegent’ is a series of articles featuring businesses, services and the people behind them in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn. Presented by Mica Soffer, owner and publisher of community news service COLlive.com and neighborhood directory gegent.com:
Photos: Sholem Srugo
When the largest U.S. toy chain Toys ‘R’ Us declared bankruptcy, experts pointed to “America’s retail apocalypse” as online competitors bite away at the brick-and-mortar industry.
But one toy store in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood proves that with the right approach and services, a traditional street-side store can be a success.
Kingston Toys, known locally as Zakon’s, is now the oldest original store operating on their block of Kingston Avenue, clocking in over 40 years of selling toys, games and stationary supplies.
Local chassidic residents Aron and Sima Zakon purchased the store when it was located at 373 Kingston Avenue (currently Boytique) and with time moved it to its current location down the road at 388 Kingston Avenue.
Aron was a school teacher and Sima was a homemaker that shopped there. Together, they ventured out in a new industry and made it a family store that is today owned and operated by their daughter Braindy and husband Boruch Naparstak.
“What so many people remember about my father is that he would learn at every free moment he had in the store,” Braindy recalls. “He would play Torah tapes of learning and when a kid would be rowdy, he would higher the volume. The kids would think it was a walkie-talkie and quiet down.”
Even after running the store for the last 16 years and rebranding it Kingston Toys, the memories still remain.
“People still call us Zakon’s because that’s my parents’ name,” she says. “We became a neighborhood icon, and a meet-up place on Kingston Avenue. People told us years later, after my father wasn’t in the store anymore, ‘we used to come in here and bring our children, just to show them that you can be in business and still make time to learn.'”
“When we took over,” she explains, “we first updated the look of the store, and then we updated and expanded our merchandise. We always strive to maintain a neat, updated look, and appearance has always been important to us. We were the first ones to renovate our store, and put in a glass window front, years ago.”
And how do they deal with the competition online?
“Even in this day of online shopping, when so many people’s shopping habits have been reduced to just a few clicks of a button, we find that children would rather take their allowance and birthday money to a store which allows them to touch, explore and choose their toys.
“Or, if a customer walks in and asks for a $20 gift for a four-year-old, in a matter of minutes we can suggest something, wrap it for free, and they’re out on their way. So people find it really convenient – and you can beat the time frame.”
Naparstak states that their prices are very competitive for what you will find online. Another factor is the customer attention. “We take the items out of the box if they want to see it, we show them how it works. This kind of personal shopping experience can’t be substituted with online shopping,” she says.
“Parents come to our store regularly because they like the carefully selected toys we carry, the appropriate toys for every child’s stage of development, as well as the fun games and activities. We have many therapists who come in for the toys they need for their work.”
Asked about Toys ‘R’ Us, she says:
“I don’t know why Toys ‘R’ Us couldn’t make it, but I will say that there is something about shopping in a specialty neighborhood store. The parents come in with their children and tell them, ‘here is where I shopped when I was your age.’ It’s very nostalgic and parents just love the service. They’re very happy they have that personal connection. They know if they send their child in, we will help them, and we are familiar with them and what they like. Sometimes I will tell my customers, ‘when I bought this item I had you in mind.’ The large stores can be very overwhelming.”
She says many grandparents shop there because they know they can exchange the items if needed. “Our customer service is great, if anything is broken we will fix it or replace it right away. We also do ‘drive by’ service, people will drive by on the way to an outing, and we can prepare whatever toys, such as bubbles, balls, and more, and they can pick it up on the way,” she says.
“A lot of attention is paid to each customer. Many times if kids need craft items for a school project, and we run out of that item, we will try to restock that item by the next day, even if it means that my husband has to personally go and pick it up,” Naparstak says.
She notes that Jewish salesmen always put on Tefillin when they come by. “It became a ritual already,” she says. “One time, when my husband was not here and a salesman came by, I noticed that he was just hanging around and not leaving. I finally realized, he wants to put on Tefillin. I asked him, and he said, ‘how did you guess? I felt funny leaving without putting on Tefillin.’ I went outside and found a young man walking down the street, asked him to come inside and put tefillin on him. It’s already something the salesmen look forward to.”
As a rule, the Naparstaks try to stay on top of the trends. “Things constantly change, so we are always updating and keeping up with the times,” she says. “It’s a hard job but you have to know what the children like and what is in fashion. Right now slime, squishies and sequins are very in, but things change quickly. You always have to be on top of what the kids want for now.”
But that doesn’t mean they will offer everything for sale. “Being a neighborhood store, we have a sense of responsibility for the items we carry,” she says.
An example, the store won’t carry toys with “really dangerous little parts” or prank toys. “We only carry those around Purim-time but not all year round. Parents really appreciate that, because it’s not something they want their kids playing with on a regular basis.”
Another example is the Rebbe’s educational instruction to parents to only show infants images of kosher creatures, instead of non-kosher animals that are predators by nature and can be a negative influence on a child.
“We try not to carry them,” she says. “We had to convince our suppliers, and were successful somewhat in doing, to embroider ducks and other kosher images instead of bears on the items. We also feel we had a great impact on the Jewish manufacturers in the last few years, as there have been many more companies offering Jewish toys at our request. We have a Kosher animal toy set which they created specifically for us, which includes only Kosher animals.”
They also carry an extensive selection of Jewish-themed toys and games. “We feel we owe it to the neighborhood to carry items that represent what Crown Heights stands for,” she states.
With Lag BaOmer coming up, it’s clear from the selection in the store that seasonal items are a big part of their business. There are bows and arrows, and items for 3-year-old boys who will be getting their upshernish haircut that day. But the summer is also apparent with an array of camp items and outdoor toys.
“School season is really big for us. The kids know we have everything your teacher wants,” she reminds. “We try to have all the school supplies ready so parents don’t have to go crazy and travel around, we have everything here they need for the school list.”
Despite the store being known for toys and games, they also carry luggage that is useful to the many visitors to Crown Heights throughout the year. “Our most famous is the expanding traveling wheel bag, which many people buy to fill up with their Crown Heights purchases before they go home.”
“This business is very nostalgic because we really get to know families for generations, we have the kids coming in, and then they come in with their children, and we get to know them, and see their simchas… we love being a part of that.”
Kingston Toys and Stationery
388 Kingston Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11225
Phone: (718) 774-4409
Hours: Sun-Thurs 11:00am-7:00pm
Fri & Erev Yom Tov: Winter till 3:00 ~ Other Seasons till 4:30
~ Summer Closed on Fri
Gegent.com is a unique and highly informative directory of community businesses and services to help consumers’ daily activities and needs. Include your business here.
Such a nice store and family!
So true. Was on amazon looking at puzzles, came in here last month and it was cheaper in store.
these store owners really deserve every compliment they get. they’re pragmatic about their selections so you know the latest gimmicks are available at a competitive price, but at the same time, as they say, they don’t carry “dangerous” toys. parents and kids will have a kid friendly shopping experience and you know that if you send your kids by themselves they’ll be treated honestly and ethically, down to the last penny. also see their names around as participant donors of prizes for the various neighborhood tzedakah auctions. yasher koach and keep growing!
Baruch and Breindy are amazing!!!! They have hearts of gold and do so much Chesed with a big smile.
They would rather go there than anywhere else such as the playground or library or even other stores. They beg to be taken there.
BS”D What really amazes me is his patience with a 20 cent item is equivalent to a $50 item
Zakon’s is a great store. The Naparsteks are very kind and wonderful people. I have a great memories of being in Bais Rivkiah 9th grade before being an out of towner was the “in thing” I would stop into Zakons and Mrs Zakon and I would talk….. She sensed that I was homesick ….. Thank you
Rabbi Zakon, a”h. What a tzadik!!
Kudos to the Naparsteks who run a store that keeps getting better and better. We’re always amazed how neat and organized it is. Keep up the good work and continue to be a wonderful example to other store owners in Crown Heights.
As an out of towner, I remember someone telling me to go to zakons and I didn’t know what they were talking about – but I know now 🙂 I loved going! I knew I could always go in if I needed something and they were so helpful and kind!
I remember Rabbi Zakon sitting with a sefer towards the
back of the store. A very good influence to remember this,
especially in our times.
Love reading all this!
What a beautiful family!
I once bought an electronic toy that was lime 40.00 and I used it for two days and it broke. They gladly let me exchange it. I was sooo surprised. (And greatful) my son had paid for it with his hard earned money.
I have done a few flash visits to C’H from abroad and “THAT” Toy Store is the one I encountered great customer service in and considering the size of the store (not massive, by any means) it carries a great selection. Always a pleasure to shop there.
Zakon’s always runs great promotions on Facebook!
Living in a far remote place on Shlichus is hard specially for our chidren, when I come to CH for 48 hours during the Kinnus I don’t have the time to shop toys for them. Mr. and Mrs. Naparstek are so kind to take a order over the phone, so all I need to do is just to make a point for a couple of minutes to pass by the store and pick it up!
Thank you and may you have much Hatzlacha!
My children love shopping in Zakon’s. My older son told me that he met his shliach from Yeshiva there, my younger son told me that he met his learning teacher from camp there and my daughter told me that she met her friend there.
The Naparstek family makes a real Family Store environment which creates a worm and welcoming feeling!
We live out of town but I can see a few things I would like just from the pictures. Do you sell online?
I remember when I needed I specific item and was leaving town mr. naparstek said he will see to get it in for me the next day he called and said its in being that you are short in time I will have it dropped of at your home!
thank you and much hatzlocho!
brings joy to so many kids!!! my kids love going there. for many more years to come!
Reminds me of my youth. I wish I can be a kid again and hang at zaidy and bubby store.
I remember Rabbi Zakon ah he was so kind. I remember his grandchildren used to pump up the balls with him, and learn with him in the back. The little Zakon and Naparstek boys.
And Rebitzen Zakon she knew everyone that walked in. I recall she even suggested shidduchim. 😉
Zakon’s is the best store in CH!
The workers at the counter are always helpful, it’s a really pleasant place to shop!
When ever I need a few toys and games to raffle of in school or camp I stop by Zakon’s on my way home, best collection and best prices!
As a bochur Zakon’s is the best and easiest store to shop pens and notebooks for the notes you write down during learning!
Great store and great family.
I think Rabbi Lustig from Oholei Torah is their son in law.
All having a positive impact on our community! We are thankful!
Very pleasant shopping experience for all the reasons above.
I always notice Mr. Zakon giving tzedoko to the mishulachim that stop in. We should shop by him and support our own. And their prices are comparable.
When my fancy watch broke and I was leaving for overseas, Mr. Naparstek saw my predicament, could’ve marked it up etc. sold me a great Casio, still working 2 years later…
BS”D yes- Zakons ‘R’ us
Wonderful owners, wonderful service, wonderful experience, wonderful selection – they should always have wonderful Mazel
And great service!
I find that they have everything I need amd have compared their prices to amazon. They are usually comparable and sometimes cheaper than amazon!
I especially appreciate the services. Friendly and patient, even when my kids are screaming that they want everything!
Mr. Naparstek is a role model. I wish other stores would see and learn from him.
Every word in the article is so true, and like comment #1 wrote, the prices are competitive.
We tend to think that Amazon is for sure cheaper, but it’s really not true. I have seen great prices at Zakons.
Mr Zakon A”h was the one who suggested a school supplies list
I once needed a specific folder that costed $11.00 on Amazon and I couldn’t wait for the shipment to arrive, so I went to Zakon’s and was shocked to see it was $3.49!
We’re delighted to read all these beautiful comments about Braindy and Boruch and their wonderful store. It is rare indeed to find a small store so perfectly organized making the shopping experience so easy and pleasant..May you continue being a role model to all who are fortunate to be able to shop there for many years to come.
גם אם נכתוב לילות וימים * ודפים שלמים נהיה ממלאים * על השירות הטוב שבחנות הזו מקבלים * מהנפארסטקים המקסימים * עדיין יהיו אין ספור מילים * שאותם ניתן להיות משבחים * שירות טוב לקליינטים * מהם וגם מצוות הפועלים * סבלנות למקומיים ולאורחים * את החנות תמיד ממלאים * במשקים וכל מיני חפצים * שבהם הציבור חפצים * ובשקט עושים הרבה חסדים * ואת החנות לפעמים פותחים * במיוחד כשהם מתבקשים * אפילו בשעות וזמנים לא נוחים * ואותם כולנו מכל הלב
* מברכים * שיזכו להיות מתפרנסים * בכבוד ובלי מניעות ועיכובים *