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By Kevin Skaggs
May 1, 2003
Name: Ambassador Toys
Store Location: 186 West Portal Avenue,
San Francisco, CA 94127;
1981 Union Street, San Francisco, CA 94123
Store Web Address: ambassadortoys.citysearch.com
Store Owner: Linda Kapnick
really is a small world at Ambassador Toys in San
Francisco. Walking into this unique store, you soon find yourself
wandering the globe, with colorful banners flying overhead designating
each section of the store as its own continent. Looking for Hello
Kitty? Walk over to the Asia section. Want to find a plush stuffed
lion? It’ll be in Africa.
Kapnick, the store’s owner and manager, opened the
first of what would become two 3,000 square-foot Ambassador stores
five years ago. By opening a store with an international environment,
Kapnick says she combined two of her first loves: international studies
and children’s toys. “Toys are like ambassadors to the
world,” says Kapnick. “We’re trying to teach international
cultures with books, music and games from all over the world. And,
very importantly, we want to make this a fun place to go.”
it’s Kite Day in Japan, carp kites can be found in her stores.
Come Chinese New Year, you can count on it being celebrated at Ambassador.
Kapnick says that with today’s greater awareness of cultural
diversity, selling toys with an international theme is getting easier
all the time—whether it’s Lego’s Asian
Dragon Set or the Manhattan Groovy Girls,
who, with their variety of ethnicities, fly off Ambassador’s
Ambassador Toys Store
its engaging and unhurried environment, Kapnick sees many of the
same customers coming in each day, if only to take temporary refuge
in a creative, comfortable place with their children. “There’s
a need for young mothers to find a place to get together and talk
to each other because they don’t necessarily live in the same
place,” says Kapnick. “The secondary part of this job
has been that we’ve supplied that kind of a place. If I had
known the need for that before I started, I would have created an
environment that’s even more mom friendly with more places
It wasn’t as if Kapnick didn’t plan her business thoroughly
before she started. She took ten years studying the industry and
getting a business degree, finally pulling together a business plan
before approaching her first store’s property owners in 1997.
It was a tight year for real estate with dot-coms booming in the
Bay Area, but with her intensive preparation, she was able to show
the owners and her retail designers exactly how she planned to make
her international concept succeed.
years ago, when another space became available in a tony neighborhood
of San Francisco, Kapnick grabbed it, knowing that volume (and the
vendor discounts that come with it) is key in being successful as
an independent retailer.
choice of retail niche, her planning, and her willingness to take
chances on strengthening her business have paid off. She claims
not to be over the hump financially just yet, but her two stores
are popular with customers and are gaining industry-wide recognition.
Ambassador was nominated for a 2002 T.O.T.Y. Award for Retailer
of the Year/Under 25 Locations. FAO Schwarz may have won
the prize, but there’s always next (Chinese) year.
Bio: Kevin Skaggs is a San Francisco-based writer whose
work has appeared in Wired and Harvard Review.