Friday, April 19, 2024

A “moving sale” sign dominates the window at Stellabella Toys in Porter Square in anticipation of a shift to Davis Square in September. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Okay, this time Davis Square is definitely getting a toy store.

Since June, when the Knucklebones child exercise and toy “epicenter” was forced out of its space at 196 Elm St. — the very edge of Cambridge as it pokes into Somerville’s Davis Square — signs have appeared in the windows of the space announcing the September arrival of Stellabella Toys, the four-store chain owned by Richard Henry.

But the opening in Davis Square doesn’t add a fifth store, Henry said. It relocates the one in Porter Square at 1967 Massachusetts Ave. (leaving in place the Inman Square store at 1360 Cambridge St. and sites in Burlington and Dedham), leaving only Miso Market on a block that used to hold Bob Slate Stationers and McIntyre & Moore Booksellers. Immediately across the street, Roach’s Sporting Goods is gone as well, leaving largely blank a section of Porter Square in North Cambridge once thriving with small and family-owned businesses.

The move is in anticipation that the building will sell soon.

“It’s not without some trepidation that you leave a Mass. Ave. location three blocks from Porter,” Henry said Tuesday. “The fact that we found what we consider to be a decent location near to the neighborhood is better than having to close and disappear from North Cambridge and Somerville, so from that perspective we’re very happy about it.”

There’s less selling floor in the new site, but more storage, Henry said. The store needs from 1,500 to 2,000 feet of display and sale area, and the new site meets that minimum — a loss of some 400 square feet from the Massachusetts Avenue site. What it has, though, is “probably more than a full basement, probably 2,000 square feet,” while the current store offers only a small room, and Henry said he is seeking permission from the city to hold sing-along events in his new downstairs space.

All workers should be kept on, Henry said, and he likes that he’ll be neighbors with the Diaper Lab cloth diaper retail store, although there’s still a empty, leasable retail space between the two child-focused businesses.

He’s also waiting to hear his rights for use of the backyard, he said. It was activities there in a residential area (from a storefront grandfathered into retail use by the Caning Shoppe, which was there before Knucklebones) that sent neighbors to zoning inspectors for relief. Cambridge Commissioner of Inspectional Services and Building Commissioner Ranjit Singanayagam said he “got complaints [Knucklebones’ owner wasn’t] selling any toys at all. We told him he had to sell toys and be a retail store,” not just host playtime and events.

That won’t be a problem with Stellabella, an established store with so much inventory that in anticipation of the move — ideally coming Aug. 27, with a store opening just before or after Labor Day — there is a giant, playful “moving sale” sign up in the current front window to advertise the progressive discounts on merchandise beforehand to lighten the load. (There’s also a map showing customers where they’ll need to go as of September.)

The building on Massachusetts Avenue may not be there much longer.

“I know there has been interest in the building, I know there have been discussions. I think it’s close, although if you know anything about real estate, it’s never done until it’s done,” Henry said. “We had an option to wait it out and see what happens. But that building is eventually going to get sold, and my presumption based on Cambridge real estate and zoning: It’s a pretty good bet that whoever buys that building is going to take it down.”

The 82-year-old brick building is owned by the Slate family, of Bob Slate Stationer fame, and stretches the block for a total of 17,384 square feet of gross area assessed this year at $2.9 million. The Slates bought it in 1979, city records show.

Neighbors are already buzzing about what the move means and whether the building should be preserved or deserves to be torn down, Henry said. But that’s no longer an issue that affects him.

“The Slates have been terrific landlords. I don’t have a bad thing to say about them,” Henry said.

A call was made to Miso Market on Tuesday to find out if there were plans in case of a sale. The Asian market and seller of fresh sushi has been open only since August.

Owners were not yet in. “Everything is up in the air until we know specifically what’s happening,” a worker said. “We’re on hold, basically.”

The Slate brothers were unreachable by telephone Tuesday morning.