”Ever get the feeling that you’ve been cheated?” – John Lydon, SEX PISTOLS
On February 15, 2012 – a mere eight days ago – I posted my review of WONDER!, a 135,000 sq ft. children’s mega-store in Deerfield, Illinois. In short, my family and I loved the store – er, the ”experience” as it was more than pure retail – but the business side of me had some serious questions regarding the operation. Here’s what I wrote in the closing portion of my lengthy report…
“My retail executive past (when the “shirt & tie” look was the norm, and before I started rockin’ an eight-inch goatee) has me raising a few questions on the sustainability of WONDER!, starting with letting people know that it exists. Having opened prior to the holidays, I didn’t find out about the store until I stumbled upon it by accident on Facebook last month. In fact, I’d actually driven by it before that (spotted from the highway) and said “Hey, something finally went into the old Great Indoors…,” but there wasn’t (nor is there now) an indication from the exterior as to what WONDER! is. Looking up the history of the WONDER! project after the fact, I see that they’ve had some coverage in the local papers and in CHICAGO Magazine (I used to subscribe, but not anymore), but those aren’t necessarily the best locations to capture the attention of on-the-go parents. They’ve got a solid website and social media presence, but the locals need to know that the store is there.
The other thing that strikes me is the amount of empty space vs. how much is being shelled out per-square-foot for retail space. Being in a long-empty location, I’d hope that Shane Christensen (the local behind the operation) scored a good deal. A Tribune article states that “the business plan calls for 19 more stores to open within five years,” so maybe they can pull a HOBBY LOBBY and snatch up some cheap leases in already-empty locations. While spacious is nice, I think that WONDER! could do well in a streamlined form in a smaller footprint. You only need to look a few years into the not-so-distant past to recall a time when stores like FAO SCHWARZ had some beautiful and well-designed locations – two of which were in Chicago and Old Orchard – and managed to nearly destroy themselves by allowing unnecessary expansion. FAO (now owned by TOYS R US) once had over 40 stand-alone stores… today they have just one. I’m also hoping that whoever is doing buying/planning on the toy dept. side of things keeps the assortment fresh (Toy Fair is happening right now in NYC) as that stuff will pull the kids more than clothes and essentials.
Since I’ve already moved from an “Adventure” post into “Retail Industry Trade” territory, I’ll just leave those thoughts as they stand – always looking ahead with cautious optimism.”
As THE HIVES once said, “Hate to say I told you so.”
On Monday, WONDER! abruptly closed it’s doors under circumstances that I can only call ‘”curious” at best.
Facing lawsuits from contractors that say they’ve not been paid for their work in getting the store ready for it’s Grand Opening last year, along with numerous local rumblings that vendors have not been paid for the merchandise they sent to help stock the store, a brief statement was sent to the press on behalf of Lake Forest resident Shane Christensen (pictured right via LinkedIn), founder of Wonder, LLC.
Even with so many mistakes in such a short period of time, it’s still a shock that WONDER! closed it’s doors so quickly. I feel bad for the employees, the vendors, and especially the customers – particularly those with yearly memberships to the play area, classes signed up and paid for, merchandise now nonreturnable, parties booked – and the children that enjoyed the store during it’s brief existence.
Above all, what rubs me the wrong way about this is that while the press release touts “restructuring,” WONDER! shut down it’s website and closed it’s Facebook page. You can’t contact them, because they obviously don’t want to be contacted. That seems really shady. Surprisingly, their twitter account is still open (for now), with a final post dated February 17th.
Grand Opening, not-so-grand Closing (paraphrasing Jay-Z)
Ironically, SEARS announced today that they’ll be shuttering their remaining nine THE GREAT INDOORS stores. WONDER! was housed in a former GREAT INDOORS location.