Magic Beans sees explosive growth in Brookline, opens Wellesley store

Neal Simpson

As a stay-at-home Brookline mom with an 18-month old daughter, Sheri Gurock watched in horror as toy store after toy store shuttered its doors.

“I actually kind of panicked that I wouldn’t have any place to shop,” Gurock recalled.

So when the Imaginarium in Coolidge Corner announced plans to close in 2003, she decided to take matters into her own hands: Within months, she had taken over the toy store’s lease, hired its old manager and launched her own baby-gear store, called Magic Beans.

Four years later, the purveyor of high-end diaper bags and customizable strollers is in the midst of a sudden expansion, opening a second and third store in this month and planning for a fourth.

The Magic Beans empire has grown to include three stores, a warehouse in Brighton and a toy-cluttered office above the Bank of America building in Coolidge Corner. The store has also developed a national following through its Web site, www.magicbeans.com, which offers personalized stroller-matching advise and a baby-gear blog called Spillingthebeans.

The whole operation is still run by Gurock, a former branding consultant, and her husband, Eli Gurock, a former admissions director and art teacher. The couple met as kids on a New York school bus and never planned to run a store together.

“We had never run up a cash register until the day the store opened,” said Eli.

Now 29 and 30 years old, respectively, Eli and Sheri are still young parents themselves and that, they say, gives them an edge in the burgeoning baby-gear market, which grew to $7.3 billion in sales in 2005, up from $4 billion in 1995, according to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.

In the last three years, young parents have become increasingly willing to pay top dollar for high-end baby products, the Gurocks said. Today it’s common for parents to spend upwards of $700 for a stroller, and Sheri Gurock herself had a collection of 12 strollers before her first toddler’s first birthday.

Magic Beans has capitalized on the trend, offering everything from a color-coordinated baby stroller with three cup-holders to an army-camouflage diaper bag or a rubber-duck thermometer that beeps when bath water gets too hot.

But even with all those choices, sometimes it’s the simple things that matter.

“We’re buying this one because it’s pink, and my daughter loves pink, so we’re sold,” said Doug Riseberg, holding his 8-month-old daughter, Rachel, in one arm and wearing a small pink sweatshirt dangling over his head.

Riseberg was there to buy a car seat for his older daughter, 2-year-old Emma, but said he’s also bought three or four strollers over the years.

Sheri Gurock said she’s targeted her store, in part, at former dot-comers turned parents, “people who had very modern tastes and were frustrated with the lack of options when they had their first child.”

But the store has also benefited from its location in Coolidge Corner, where it inherited the Imaginarium’s former clientele and was able to tap into an existing high-end consumer base.

“I can’t think of a better place to have our training wheels on,” said Sheri Gurock.

For many Brookline families, Magic Beans has become like a second home. During bad weather, the store’s 375-square-foot play area is packed with parents, nannies and an army of toddlers.

“People are welcome to come. They can play all day,” said Sheri Gurock, who admits to camping out in toy-store aisles with her own toddler. “You should see it on a rainy day, my gosh.”

Sarah Sizi, a Brookline parent who brought her 15-month-old, Rebecca, on a recent Monday night, said they visit the play area about three times a week.

“Once she realizes this is a toy store, she’ll want us to buy everything,” she said as her daughter banged on a train set.

Through its Web site and blog, Magic Beans has also become popular with young parents across the country. SpillingtheBeans, in which Sheri writes about toy trends, product recalls and the antics of her young daughters, draws about 10,000 readers a month.

Eli’s personalized strolling matching service, which he runs through the store Web site, also gets about between two and six requests each day.

The Gurocks opened a Hingham store earlier this month and will host a grand opening for the Wellesley store on Nov. 17. The couple has plans to open a Dedham store in 2009, but said they’re still waiting to see if their brand will work outside Coolidge Corner.

“We’re certainly not count any chicks before they hatch,” said Sheri Gurock.

Neal Simpson can be reached at nsimpson@cnc.com.