California firm wants to revive KB Toys brand

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PITTSFIELD — Almost a decade after Pittsfield-based KB Toys abruptly closed after filing for bankruptcy protection, efforts are underway to bring the company back, possibly as early as the holiday shopping season.

A California-based company that owns the rights to KB Toys recently announced on the business networking site LinkedIn that it is planning to revive the company, which was once the country's largest mall-based toy retailer.

In the March 17 post, Ellia Kassoff, the founder of Strategic Marks LLC, said his company has spent the last six months "working on a sustainable model to bring back KB Toys the right way so it can compete with not only the big box stores but on-line as well."

Based in Newport Beach, Calif., Strategic Marks acquires and develops trademarks in order to rebuild old brands that left the market years ago, but are still highly regarded, according to its website. Some of the other brands that the seven year old company has acquired are Astro Pops, Bonkers! Bullock's, The Bon Marche, Abraham & Straus, and Screaming Yellow Zonkers.

Last week's announcement that Toys R Us plans to liquidate 730 stores of its stores nationwide accelerated the process, Kassoff said.

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"Now with the closing of @toysrus so quickly, it caught us by surprise so we've spent the last few days with our team and leaders in the toy industry to figure out how we can accelerate the project so our stores can open for the Christmas season," Kassoff said.

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Kassoff's post supplies few details of exactly how Strategic Marks plans to revive KB Toys, except to say, "We had to look at why they initially failed and to make sure those mistakes don't happen again."

Following years of poor management, KB Toys filed suddenly for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection exactly two weeks before Christmas in 2008. It announced plans to lay off 240 of its 270 employees at its Pittsfield headquarters within two months as part of shutting down the company's operations.

The company, which had also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2004, blamed dismal holiday shopping returns for the decision. Holiday sales in 2008 had fallen 20 percent over the previous year at the time the filing took place. KB ceased operations in 2009.

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The then 86-year-old company, which grew out of a wholesale candy business that brothers Donald and Richard Kaufman opened in Pittsfield in 1922, had 10,850 employees nationally when it closed. At its peak, KB Toys operated 1,200 stores.

The closing, which came when the national economy was reeling, hit the Berkshires hard. KB's four-story, 70,000-square-foot corporate headquarters building on West Street remained vacant for three years until it was purchased in April 2012 for $1.1 million by Laurin Publishing of Pittsfield.

The 32-year-old structure currently houses Laurin Publishing, the Pittsfield campus of the Mildred Elley School, and the EDM engineering firm, among other businesses.

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6224.


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