Local business

Mr. Mopps’, Berkeley’s beloved toy store, is closing

Mr. Mopps’, the venerable toy store on Martin Luther King near Rose, is going out of business.

The owner, Eugene Yamashita, wants to retire, according to his sister Naomi Yamashita. He tried to find a buyer but was unsuccessful, so he made the hard decision to shut down, she said. It was his wife Jean who opened the store more than 40 years ago.

There is no firm date for the closing, but the store will shut once most of the merchandise is gone, said Naomi Yamashita. Books are now ½ off and a number of toys are also on sale.

Haruna Kubota, who was browsing in the store Wednesday afternoon with her two daughters, Kaya, 7 and Shima, 5, said she was sad to learn the store would close. She said she comes to Mr. Mopps’ regularly to buy toys and birthday presents since the store has so much more variety than chain toy stores.

“I was shocked when I heard about the closing,” she said. “This is such a unique store. It’s a landmark in Berkeley.”

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  • Owen Thomas

    I am SO sad to see this place go. Total Berkeley institution.

  • http://www.greenbungalows.info Arlene Baxter

    It truly will be an end of an era when Mr. Mopps’ Toy Store closes. Even as a childless adult, Mr. Mopps’ is an important part of my Berkeley community. I drive by most days, and cannot imagine driving past and not seeing the lion in the window! Where else would I go to get an enormous rubber spider to complete my witch outfit for Halloween?! I’ve purchased many toys and gifts for children of clients, and marveled at the wonderful toys that I would happily play with as a middle-aged adult! Playing, and reading, are such important activities, and it seemed that Mr. Mopps’ was part of the hub of those activities for North Berkeley, at least. I cannot say I’m terribly surprised. I AM terribly saddened!

  • http://www.ThisIntoThat.com Jim Rosenau

    I am sad to hear this, but not surprised. In fact, I wondered how the Yamashita’s hung in so long in the age of chain stores that kill chain stores! Only 40 years? I imagined they’d been around longer than that. I got my first job there, working a month before Christmas.

  • http://twitter.com/Weezus Rachel A.

    Disappointment will reign in my household. Receipt of birthday party invitations is always followed by “Can we go to Mr. Mopps?” I’m sorry no one wanted to continue and update the Mr. Mopps tradition — it has always been a place to find well-known brands of toys or random plastic objects.

  • Beth

    My kids cried about this.

  • Cathy Enderton

    Sorry to hear you are closing!! We lived around the corner from Mr. Mopps during the ’60s when my kids were growing up. It was our very favorite store and we bought there often and also just loved looking at all the neat things. Thanks to the Yamashitas for a wonderful kid-friendly very Berkeley establishment!!

  • Sarah

    I spent MOST of my measly childhood allowance at Mr. Mopps in the 70’s and early 80’s – is this REALLY a done deal? I echo the collective thanks to the Yamashitas for the 40 years of amazing contribution to the Greater Berkeley community!

  • Mark Somerville

    I live in New Jersey now but get to Berkeley at least 2 weeks each year. My children come to Mopps with me, something I did with my parents starting 40 years ago. Perhaps all good things must come to an end, but this is very sad to see.

    Good-bye Mopps, good-bye to a piece of personal history, a place where the memory of my grandparents, old friends, and time with my own parents, lives.

  • Elisa Riley

    I am so sorry to see it closing. Perhaps in the 11th hour someone kindhearted will try to run it. But the economy is not good. I guess all things must come to an end. My kids would all spend their money there buying little trinkets that they could not find any other place. It was a safe place for them to go to from our house on milvia st. they had the largest collection of toys from europe for kids,and wonderful books. So sad this could be happening.

  • Mindy

    Is there anything we can do to keep it open? It is really special, and if people knew it was going to be shut down, they might do something to get it sold again….

  • Alison

    My heartfelt thanks to a more than fantastic store. I was so lucky to grow up 3 blocks away and to have Naomi care about what I wanted. Although the book section was small, I purchased with my allowance the entire Nancy Drew series in hardback, and she looked for the ones i did not have. That is only a small part of growing up with Mr. Mopps. Thank you Yamashita Family, thank you.

  • Alison

    I meant Jean, not Naomi.

  • Kathie

    The little child I was back in the early 70s loved Mr. Mopps’ and loves it still, treasures the memories of hours spent there with my late parents, and the wonderful tidbits we could afford to take home. I think that inventory-wise, it’s one of the finest toy stores of all time; and personally, I will always favor indie stores over chain stores.

    Unfortunately, I made the mistake of getting a job at Mr. Mopps one summer in my early 20s; this was one of the worst mistakes I ever made. It was like finding out that Santa doesn’t exist, but worse. It was like finding out that Santa is a serial killer. Jean Yamashita was a monster, one of the craziest, cruellest people I’ve ever met. Everyone there worked in fear of her and left as soon as they could. (This is why there are and were virtually no long-term employees there, ever.) If you read the Yelp site’s reviews of Mopps’, there are several prominent mentions of how angry, rude and unkind the staff and managers/owners of Mopps’ were. Well, the owner, yes–absolutely. The staff were simply miserable beyond belief, overworked, underpaid and pretty much constantly abused.

    In the many years since I worked at Mopps’, I’ve run into a handful of other people who once worked there. Their stories are much like mine. A couple were not quite so bad. One was worse; like me, the fellow in question somehow caught Jean’s eye in a bad way, and became an habitual target for her verbal abuse and rage. Like me, he escaped as quickly as he could.

    Eugene was quiet and tried to stay off Jean’s bad side, which was probably difficult even for him. I remember him being a nice guy when she wasn’t around. I have no idea how such a vicious woman chose such wonderful toys and created such a remarkable store; maybe she had a terribly wounded, damaged child inside herself she was striving eternally to comfort and heal. It might explain the nightmare of her personality. Who knows. If so I would love to dredge up some sympathy for her, but it just isn’t coming. I think this probably has something to do with the time I saw her quietly, savagely lay into a small child who had knocked something off a shelf. The child’s mother was several aisles away and missed the interaction. I’m sure Jean was careful about that. Likewise, I’m sure that mother never did figure out why her child was suddenly crying hysterically when he’d been fine thirty seconds before. Ugh.

    I have seldom been happier than I was the day I walked out of that place forever. Almost 25 years later, and I’ve never gone back. It’s a pity Eugene couldn’t find a buyer for Mopps’. It might at long, long last have become the TRULY magical place it should always have been.

  • Porcelina Grout

    So sad to hear that Mr. Mopps is closing. I have been a customer for more than 30 years through 3 kids’ worth of party favors, birthday presents and Santa shopping. There is no other toy store like it. Yes, you had to mind your Ps and Qs in the store, and mind your children too. Everyone knew that. But it was always worth it.

  • David

    How much does he want for the business?

  • http://toddwagner.me Todd Wagner

    Will definitely miss the lion in the window…

  • Skee

    How much for the lion?

  • Nancy

    Mr. Mopps brings back such warm childhood memories of going there with my mother, holding her hand and happy with anticipation, to buy birthday presents. We were lucky to have such a store in Berkeley and for so long. Thank you Yamashita family.

  • Valerie

    I am so very sad to hear this. Mr. Mopps will be very missed, but I’m glad that the Yamashita family ran it for as long as they did. I consider us lucky to have had them as part of my son’s childhood. Thank you!

  • Sara

    NO! I echo all the earlier comments – thanks to the Yamashita family for running such an amazing store for so long. This store is already a legend and will be missed by so many!

  • Mary

    I live around the corner from Mr Mopps and it has been a constant in my kids’ lives as well as my grand-kids. I am very sad to think that it will just quietly close and cease to exist leaving yet another hole in the fabric of my Berkeley.

  • Katie

    This store will always be a part of my childhood. it was a wonderful place to spend time in. It will be missed by many, I am sure.

  • Joshua

    I spent a lot of time there as a kid in the 70s and 80s, and enjoyed shopping there regularly when I was a student at MLK, just around the corner. I will miss it very much, and I’m sad that I won’t be able to bring my new daughter there.

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  • http://www.wkbank.com Guy

    BIG bummer! I went to Berkeley High and UCB, worked on the campus til 1980. I used to buy gifts for my niece and nephew; they were such great toys I used to harbor (not so secretly) feelings of wanting to keep the toys for myself. Sometimes is used to buy toys for myself, too; when I was an undergraduate. Playing with them in a city park was just great. Once, I severely sprained an ankle; and I stopped by Mopps’ on my way home (I lived on Sutter Street, just before the tunnel) and bought myself a complicated model to build while I recuperated. Great memory of how to spend rainy afternoons. Wish I could see it one more time, but I miss the soda fountain at Elmwood Pharmacy too. Oh well

  • Trixie

    Like Kathie, I too worked at Mr. Mopps’ and can attest to the the craziness of Jean. It was fine — as long as Jean liked you. She did seem zoom in one person with laser-precision and basically picked on them incessantly over minor or made up things, bad talking them to other staff, etc — until the situation became intolerable they left — all with that wide-eyed, fake smile of hers.

    I worked there for about a year and a half in the Mid-Late 80’s when Melinda was cashier. (Hi Melinda!) I was there when Katarina (I believe that was her name), a German woman who had worked there for 20 years finally said enough is enough and quit.

    It wasn’t all bad, though! Back when I worked there, they paid about $7.50-$8/hr which was way more than minimum wage back then. Eugene was always nice but let Jean run the staff. I recall that he was kind enough to buy us lunch on Saturdays, and every day during the two weeks before Christmas. I don’t know if they still do it, but we also got a Christmas bonus. Everyone got a different (secret) bonus, but the amount depended on how much Jean liked or disliked you. I recall getting a $300 bonus and my co-worker who worked there who Jean had decided to dislike (but was a good worker) only got $50.

    The downside of working there were the hours. Everyone works Saturday, period. They are closed on Sundays – This means that only the senior-most person got Monday off. The rest of the staff had to have days off that were Sun & Tues or Sun & Wed or Sun & Thurs, etc. Not getting two days off in a row is very tiring after being on your feet all day – not being able to decompress from work or go out of town on a weekend trip gets old very fast. That got very old and was my eventual reason for leaving the store. I did go back one year to work the Christmas season and enjoyed myself.

    I am sad to see the store go and I wish the Yamashitas well!

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  • Bruce Conway

    Actually the closure could not be farther from the truth. Mr. Mopp’s will continue under new ownership maintaining it’s long tradition of unique toys. Please spread the word that this beloved store is open for business, and will remain so for a good number of years to come.

  • http://www.davosnewbies.com Lance Knobel

    Bruce, we’ve covered both the planned closure and the rescue: http://www.berkeleyside.com/2010/10/15/berkeley-couple-buys-mr-mopps-toy-store/. You’ll see that Devin McDonald started on the road to buying Mr Mopps when he read about the planned closure on Berkeleyside.

  • Elizabeth Vizcarra

    I know this is a late comment, however, I just found out that Mr. Mopps was closing. I live in Atlanta now, however, grew up in Oakland and pretty much spend half my life there. My mother took me to Mr. Mopp’s always when I was a child and I loved that place so much. It really brought tears to my eyes, when I found out. It will be missed so much!

    Elizabeth

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  • Jennifer

    Glad to see someone bought it. And in response to Kathie regarding working there, I did as well and Jean was the loon of loons! Horrible to work for. I had gone there as a child and it was very disheartening to find out what an absolute wretch of and employer she was. And you’re right, Eugene was fine away from her – I have NO IDEA how he put up with her personally. Anyway, it looks like it’s in great hands now!