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Jawonio Debuts “Brick It Again” At Lake Ridge Plaza On March 28 at 11 am
By Tina Traster
Many an idea starts with a building block. One concept or kernel drives a vision that gains traction and buy-in from stakeholders. This eventually morphs into a full-blown venture like Brick It Again, the retail store Jawonio is preparing to open on March 28 at Lake Ridge Plaza in Valley Cottage.
It’s interesting to think about Jawonio’s scheme to open a store that sells used and new LEGO® bricks, given the nonprofit’s strenuous reputation for building an environment that nourishes people with developmental disabilities. Every day the organization lays the foundation for people with challenges to better inhabit and function in the world.
LEGO®, founded 90 years ago in Denmark, has become one of the most successful game brands in marketing history. The company began in a small carpenter’s workshop owned by Ole Kirk Christiansen, who began making wooden toys in 1932. The LEGO® brand is a worldwide phenomenon that transcends geographic and cultural boundaries.
And if you’ve ever wondered, LEGO® is a portmanteau of two Danish words: leg godt”, meaning “play well.”
The idea to use LEGO® as a vehicle to groom Jawonio’s clientele via a retail store began one Christmas when the nonprofit’s Executive Director Randi Rios-Castro realized all her nephews wanted for the holidays were LEGO® sets.
A light went on. Perhaps that first conceptual brick was laid.
“I thought, these sets are really expensive; how does the average person afford these?” said Rios-Castro, adding sets can cost up to $1,000. “Then I thought wouldn’t it be great if we can resell these sets to children, or even adults, because there’s a huge demand for this?”
Rios-Castro reached into her history to fuel the plan. Years before, she worked with Yes She Can, a nonprofit that helps young women with autism and related disabilities develop transferable job skills. During her tenure there, Yes She Can opened a retail store in White Plains that resold American Girl Dolls, and other items. Rios-Castro said the resale store was flush with donations; its constituents learned to clean, package, and merchandise the dolls.
“This project had legs,” said Rio-Castro. “It’s been going for eight years.”
Jawonio’s Executive Director saw a parallel.
“It’s really about getting products donated so we can train people with disabilities to sell them,” she said. “People who are not using LEGO® can put them to good use, they can pay it forward. They can donate their sets or pieces, books, movies, mini-figures – anything LEGO® – and it’s a tax deductible donation.”
The LEGO® brick, twice named “Toy of the Century” began its modern iteration in 1958. The interlocking principle makes for infinite possibilities.
LEGO® can be turned into just about anything. It’s all about imagination – the same principle Jawonio is using in this unchartered venture.
But opening a retail store carries risk. The nonprofit organization first secured a $300,000 grant from Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to fund its buildout and pay for the first year of operations. The donation will cover the first year’s rent, and salaries for a manager and between five to eight part-time workers.
Rios-Castro said the landlord built a wall so Jawonio can partition the space to hold birthday parties and events. Crews from the nonprofit pitched in with painting, new floors, and building shelving and sorting tables.
One wall has been painted white, a blank canvass awaiting volunteers, perhaps school children, to turn it into a LEGO® -inspired cheerful mural.
The Executive Director is counting on generating a profit by the end of year one.
“I’m hoping the store will generate a profit and we won’t need additional funding,” she said. “The goal is to make it sustainable.”
Of course, you can’t just put up a shingle and sell LEGO® without dealing with some red tape.
“There are a lot of guidelines to follow, a lot of rules and agreements in order to be a reseller,” said the Executive Director. “We can’t use the LEGO® logo in our advertising or say we’re affiliated. To be a reseller of new kits, we have to order through ToyHouse,” the exclusive distributor for small retailers. And efforts to partner with LEGOLAND® in Orange County went unanswered.
The nonprofit expects 20 percent of the merchandise will be new, the rest donated.
Birthday and themed parties will add another revenue stream to the business.
Rios-Castro understands retail is always a risk. The organization will be responsible for the space for three years, but she’s confident.
“There’s a huge market for this,” said Rios-Castro. “There are stores around the country and online that resell LEGO® but I’m not aware of another nonprofit doing this with a retail store.”
Brick It Again will open March 28th at 11 am. Store hours will be Wednesday through Sunday, 10am to 7pm.
From March 28th through April 30th, customers who make a purchase will be entered into a raffle to win a free Brick it Again birthday party.
Jawonio Fundraising Events 2023
March 28th: Grand Opening “Brick it Again” opens LEGO® Resale Store
June 5th: Jawonio Foundation Golf Outing
July 18th: Hometown Heroes Bowlathon
August 5th: Rockland Duck Derby
Dec. 3rd: 4th Annual Virtual Gala