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Berkeley couple buys Mr Mopps’ toy store

Devin McDonald and Jenny Stevenson, new owners of Mr Mopps

A couple with deep roots in Berkeley has purchased Mr. Mopps’, the venerable toy store loved by generations of Berkeley children.

Devin McDonald, 34, and Jenny Stevenson, 30, finalized the purchase Friday and intend to take over the store this weekend.

“We’re unspeakably excited,” said McDonald, who grew up five blocks from the store. “We have the intention of maintaining the spirit of Mr. Mopps’, which is having everything at all price points for all ages. That’s what makes Mr Mopps’ so great. You can go in there and find things for every kid.”

McDonald first learned that Mr Mopps’ might be closing from an article he read on Berkeleyside in April. The store’s owner, Eugene Yamashita, had been trying without luck to sell the business, and had decided to shutter the store after 40 years.

The news surprised and dismayed hundreds of people who had spent time in the toy store and many of them rallied to keep it open. Many Berkeleyside readers shared their memories of the store in the Comments section and the story went viral — accumulating an astonishing 905 Facebook “Likes”. It wasn’t long before a “Let’s Buy Mr. Mopps”page was formed on Facebook.

“We’re unspeakably excited.We have the intention of
maintaining the spirit of Mr Mopps'” – Devin McDonald

McDonald was sad to hear the business would close, and immediately got the idea to try and buy it. “When I read it something made me feel I wanted to get involved with it, because I love Mr. Mopps’ and I grew up going there,” he said.

After the Berkeleyside article came out, Yamashita decided to try and sell the business again. He hired realtor Jeff Auen, and put the business, and his building at 1405 Martin Luther King, on the market for $1.17 million. The store’s toy inventory was set at an additional $100,000.

When no one stepped up to buy the real estate, Yamashita agreed to just sell the business, said McDonald. The asking price was $175,000. McDonald would not reveal the purchase price.

McDonald has deep roots in Berkeley. His father is the musician Country Joe McDonald, whose songs with Country Joe and the Fish became the unofficial anthems of the anti-war movement.

His grandmother, Florence Plotnick McDonald, served on the Berkeley City Council. When she was City Auditor, she famously refused to pay a bar bill run up by a Berkeley mayor, according to McDonald.

McDonald does not have any experience in running a toy store, but he knows what kids like. He has spent the past 15 years working as a nanny for various families around the Bay Area. Stevenson is a hair cutter who works in San Francisco. McDonald plans to spend five days a week in the store and Stevenson will spend a few.

They don’t plan to make any changes to the store initially. In January, after the holiday rush, they will close for a week, do a deep clean, and paint. They intend to keep the current store staff.

McDonald and Stevenson are planning to move soon from San Francisco to Berkeley.

“I feel we are becoming part of the fabric of Berkeley again,” said McDonald. “I am excited to be giving back to the community.”

Find Mr Mopps’ on Facebook.

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  • John Seal

    And it’s one, two, three, what are we shopping for?
    Whether for kids or tots
    We’re goin’ to Mr. Mopps…

    (with apologies to Country Joe McDonald)

  • Ira Serkes

    Awww

  • tizzielish

    I want to express my warm fervent support for Mr. McDonald and Ms. Stevenson’s success with Mr. Mopps. I’d like to see them revitalize that toy store with some kind of viral campaign that heavily reminds Berkeley residents to not just buy local food but to buy their childrens’ toys locally. If Berkeley can be ground zero in eating local, why not also be a leader of supporting the local economy by spending all your money locally? I sure try to spend the little money I do spend in Berkeley.

    The store itself could sure use a sprucing up. I am fairly new to Berkeley (less than two years). When I first passed that toy store, I actually thought it was shut down, a relic that the owner had not bothered to box up. I had to pass it many times before I realized it was an actual retail establishment. It has the air of being a museum. Too bad they can’t do more before the Xmas rush to the physical facility . . .

    but they could do, I think, some low-cost, local promotions. . how about an add on berkeleyside? how about good old fashioned coupons? and events at the store for kids? maybe they do that and I have been unaware because there are no kids in my life these days. When I had kids, we often gravitated towards our local, neighborhood toy store just cause going in the store was fun . . . and parents with happy kids having fun with toys spend money. Jugglers, puppet shows, just playing music on a CD and asking kids to sing along . . .

    I bet that Mr. McDonald’s years as a nanny has taught him a lot about having fun with kids. I hope his love of children feeds the store, which will feed our city.

    Warm wishes for their success.

  • tizzielish

    How about paying someone to walk up and down the farmers market with a sandwich board sign asking produce shoppers if they have remembered their local toy shopping, esp. as Xmas draws near. And that new SAturday market on San Pablo . . . The BeeHive? have a presence there, reminding Saturday shoppers about toy shopping.

    Have cake walks on the sidewalk in front of the shop but instead of giving away cakes, give away very modestly priced toys like paddles with a rubber ball attached . .a paddle ball or a kazoo . . . place ‘tickets’ for the toy walks around town like coupons. . .

    create treasure hunts or scavenger hunt’s with clues to toys at Mr. Mopps.

  • Karin Lamb

    I really hope new ownership takes! I grew up shopping at Mr. Mopps, and always was able to find the more ‘offbeat’ toys there. Recently the inventory has been too pricey for me as a single mom with 3 kids, and I haven’t shopped there as much.
    I have it on good authority, however, that Santa gets stocking stuffers there sometimes…to give the elves a break and all, you know.
    So hip hip huzzah for the new ownership,and here’s hoping they can find a way to give folks a reasonable price point while still giving the high-quality shopping experience we all expect of Mr.Mopps.
    And hey, how about finding some old-mechanical-toy-expert to fix up Mr. Mopps’ Lion? I can remember being giddy with happy fear every time he roared when I was little. (yep, he really did, he used to roar!).
    Karin Lamb

  • Lauren

    How exciting…Hopefully the new owners will fill the store with toys and cool stuff kids want Like Legos. we will definitely support the new store
    would much rather spend our $ there instead of target or toys R us
    Mr Mopp’s had been going down hill for years there were many times
    we went to buy a gift for a kid party and left empty handed, the store
    seemed to be behind the times, don’t get me wrong we love all the real wood toys and such but there was also a bunch of junk filling the shelves. I thought that another Berkeley icon was gone forever.
    Good luck to McDonald and Stevenson.

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  • jenn

    Great news. Let’s hope they make this a place to shop and buy presents. Mr. Mopps people were always so rude and the selection was not what kids today want. It was hard to support them. I tried to by gifts there, but you couldn’t find much. Good luck! We are happy you did this.

  • Felicity

    I haven’t run into any rudeness there, and I’ve always found lots of things. I take my 3-year-old grandson there. We’re so glad the place will stay open.

  • http://www.yourmomissoberkeley.com Berto

    Thrilled! That’s all I can say. Devin and Jenny are the right people for this. Please support them. I grew up going to Mr. Mopps and I always loved their blend of current and older toys. They always had a great Playmobile selection and as a parent that’s the kind of toys I want for my kids now. I loved being able to get Brio and Star Wars in the same place when I was 6 and I love it even more now. Please make a point to support Devin and Jenny!

  • Dave Griff

    Love it!!! I have shopped at MR.Mopp’s since i was a kid!! I was always scared of the old owner she would always watch me as a kid thinking i was stealing something!!! I have great memories of buying “Dinky& Corrgie” toys
    when i was a kid!!!
    I’ll be back , now i know the old “Witch” is gone!!!!

  • garreth shaw

    I’ll feel like a kid again!

    Can’t wait: I’ll be there!

    Congratulations and Hooray for us ALL!

    Garry Shaw

  • sally veauta

    This is the best news I’ve heard since the Chilean miners were so recently saved.

    Good news! We ALL need more of it – to be able to go back to the spirit of the original Mr Moops, will to create joy for all who enter into a business which is filled with memories while small children will be able to create their own!

    Hooray for us all!

    sally veauta

  • Abby

    This is so perfect. Congratulations, you guys!

  • Jane Friedman

    Hi Devin,
    You may not remember Berkwood Hedge but I was one of your second grade teachers.
    Congratulations on bringing Mr. Mopp’s back. I can’t wait to stop in and say hi and buy something for my grandson.

    Best,
    Jane Friedman

  • Deanne Burke

    Hello Devin,

    I was your other 2nd-grade teacher at Berkwood-Hedge. I can’t think of a better combination than you and a toy store. You know how to play, how to make things work, how to laugh, how to invent and how to enjoy building. There are many memories of you of which I’ve only mentioned a few. Good and entertaining books were also one of your interests.

    I look forward to bringing my grandchildren to Mr. Mopp’s. The store was a favorite of my son’s when he was growing up.

    Cheers,
    Deanne Burke

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Berkeley-CA/Mr-Mopps-Childrens-Books-and-Toys/148068661904048 Devin McDonald

    Hello everyone! Thanks so much for all the outstanding support and kind words!

    Right now, Jenny, myself, and the staff at Mr. Mopps’ are gearing up for the holidays and Jenny and I are receiving a crash course in toy shop ownership. With guidance and blessings from the Yamashita family, we are becoming comfortable with our roles at the helm of Mr. Mopps’ and plan on making a good thing even better. We look forward to returning the store to it’s former splendor with a few minor improvements to come. This is incredible, and we have a really good feeling about all of it. Personally, I still have moments where I actually perceive what is happening! We actually, in real life, operate Mr. Mopps’! For real! In real life!! It’s amazing! I’m getting hugs from strangers at the store gushing about Mopps’ being saved, and I can’t even tell who is more excited- me or them.

    We’ve started a page for anyone who partakes in any facebookery… (a proper website is to come sometime in the next year or so.) I am putting a link here, but should it not work, it is under “Mr. Mopps’ Children’s Books and Toys”.

    I really can’t thank Frances Dinkelspiel and Berkeleyside for the wonderful article, and the community for being so welcoming in our new ownership of what is really a Berkeley institution, enough. Here’s to many, many more years of carrying on a Berkeley tradition rich in history that started in 1962.

    And Deanne and Jane- how could I forget? Your class was a ball. I love you guys.

    If anyone has any suggestions, comments, complaints, etc., etc., please feel free to email us at contact.mr.mopps@gmail.com … We love that kind of stuff.

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  • http://pottercreek.org DavidB

    what good news! no way should Mr Mopps’ go away!

  • Karin

    As we drove down [Old Grove] Street today, I asked my 12 year old son if he had heard Mr. Mopp’s was closing. With a sad voice, hanging his head, he said “Yes, it sucks!”.

    So I said “Riley it WAS going to close, but these great people bought it and they’re going to fix it up and get it going strong again, it’ll be all ready for the holiday season by next month”.

    In the rearview mirror (at a stoplight mind you, right in front of Mr.Mopps), I watched the sad face turn into a gleaming grin of gratitude and listened to the joy in Riley’s “Awesome”.

    And that, my new bestest friends, is all you have to know about what a wonderful thing you have done.

  • Alison Williams

    Thank you Devin and Jenny, for continuing the tradition! I sincerely hope that everybody comes out to support you and my favorite toy store. Its also great to know the Berkwood-Hedge spirit is alive and well. Hi Deanne and Jane! <3