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Squeezed by big-box and online retailers, natural toy store PeaPods is closing

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Under pressure from big-box retailers and Amazon, Peapods Natural Toys & Baby Care in St. Paul announced it is going out of business.

Millie Adelsheim and Dan Marshall, owners of the store in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood, made the announcement in a blog post Thursday, as the store launched a 15-percent-off, closing-down sale.

As a small, independent business, the store found it increasingly difficult to compete in a market against not only big-box stores and online sales, but the growing trend of companies selling products directly to consumers.

As a business it was ahead of the curve when it was launched in 1998, selling natural baby and children's goods that back then were considered niche products.

But the curve has caught up with them, with the couple saying in the blog: "When we started in 1998, babywearing, cloth diapering and wood toys were fringe ideas. People used to stop us in the street to ask us what the heck our baby sling was. Seriously.

"These products and ideas are now wholly mainstream. You can buy a decent baby carrier at Target or cloth diapers at Kohl's for goodness sake. In a sense, we've helped accomplish our mission, but that also means that we're far less relevant than we used to be."

Writing was on the wall

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The Pioneer Press reports that through its 16 years in business, Peapods provided "a boost to new and local toymakers in the area" as a champion of natural toys and baby gear.

But Marshall said that the store, at 2290 Como Ave., had suffered seven years of declining sales that showed no signs of reversing.

"We read the writing on the wall," he told the newspaper.

In the blog, PeaPods said that brands that it had helped introduce to the Twin Cities are "abandoning specialty stores like ours in favor of big boxes,, or direct sales to customers."

"This is especially true with cloth diapers and baby carriers," it adds, "two areas that have defined our store and where we have invested the most in trained customer service."

The couple, who have four children, are now looking for their next challenge.

"We are no longer the parents of babies and our kids are interested in lots of awesome teenager stuff that doesn't connect at all with Peapods" the blog concludes. "We're ready to move on, even if we're not sure where we're going."

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