Business & Real Estate

‘Hardest decision’: Longtime LA business owner closes shop, seeks to relocate after 20 years on Main Street

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
A passerby stops to browse the window display at Kids Only, located at 248 Main St. in downtown Los Altos, last week. Shop owner Rita Tjhoi posted “Store Closing Sale” signs Sept. 12, six weeks before she plans to close her business for good.

Rita Tjhoi’s Kids Only lease expires on Halloween, and the longtime downtown Los Altos merchant plans to close her doors permanently Oct. 28.

She’s been planning her exit since she decided not to renew her lease at 248 Main St. earlier this month. Tjhoi described closing the children’s clothing store as the “hardest decision” she’s ever made.

Kids Only has occupied the site for approximately 20 years, and before that, Dick Felt’s Young Villagers, another children’s clothing shop, filled the space for 30 years, Tjhoi estimated. Since her business replaced Young Villagers, Tjhoi said no renovations or improvements have been made to the building.

Even the new addition to Tjhoi’s store isn’t new: The “sale” signs in the front window of her shop are leftovers from the neighboring Village Stationers’ closing in August.

“I asked them (for the signs). Why would I make another one?” Tjhoi said, laughing. “They knew (about Kids Only closing), but they didn’t say anything.”

As for Tjhoi’s decision to shutter the shop, she explained it simply: It just wasn’t working out anymore.

Tjhoi said she has been casually looking for a smaller space over the past six months. The spaciousness and visibility of 248 Main will be hard to replicate, especially in the current retail climate.

“I found a really, really nice building, but it didn’t have enough foot traffic,” she said. “Then I found (one) with good foot traffic, but it wasn’t as new as I wanted.”

Last-minute decision

While Tjhoi searches for a new brick-and-mortar shop to house Kids Only, her son plans to sell her merchandise online. His support, along with her daughter’s, ultimately encouraged her to make a move.

“I didn’t tell anybody beforehand because it was hard enough to make the decision,” she said. “My daughter lives in New York, so that weekend she was here and (we) all decided.”

Some of Tjhoi’s customers have noticed only the word “sale” on her storefront and have not read closely enough to realize that it isn’t one of her routine sales. Other loyal shoppers have come in and cried “buckets,” she said.

“To be honest, I didn’t (cry), because I did my part before I made the decision, crying buckets of tears,” Tjhoi admitted. “But now I’m OK, and I think I’ve made the right decision.”

Currently, sale items are marked 20% off, but that will change to accommodate Tjhoi’s inventory. She’s still receiving new merchandise less than a month before closing, because she doesn’t want to anger her distributors.

“No one’s closing their store with brand-new items (coming) in now,” she said last week. “I still have 10 boxes that just came today. You can tell that this is not what I planned or what I want.”

Even the UPS drivers have started to come to Tjhoi’s aid, asking if she’s sure she wants to accept deliveries, she joked. At this time, it’s what’s good for her future business.

Tjhoi doesn’t know what the future holds, whether she will find a space that’s updated and has lots of foot traffic or whether she will only sell what she has online. She hopes she will miss only the winter season and be back in business in the area by next spring.

But she’s certain of one thing: Support from the community is what kept her on Main Street for two decades.

“People didn’t expect (Kids Only closing) because people know I’ve been here (a long time), and people know I love what I do. … I have two kids and this is my No. 3,” Tjhoi said. “I really appreciate all the support I get from my customers, and that’s why I want them to know this was a last-minute decision.”

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