Retail has been part of Lisa Smith’s life since she was in grade school, helping bag purchases for customers at her dad’s pharmacy, Parkway Drugs. Today, she owns Northbrook toy store Parkway Presents, combining the customer service skills she learned from her father with the discerning eye of a professional educator for toys that engage, stimulate, and inspire children.
Lisa’s journey to entrepreneurship was hardly a straight line; she started her professional life as a special education teacher, and later worked as an academic tutor and nonprofit programs coordinator. However, working with her father continued to be a constant thread over the years. “Wherever I was in my life, I was always in the store,” she recalls. Eventually, she became the buyer for Parkway Drugs’ toys, gifts and greeting cards, developing skills and connections that would become essential in running her own business.
Several years went by, marked by the passing of her father and the demands of raising her young children. Lisa continued to nurture the dream of opening her own store, contacting toy sales reps that she knew for guidance and advice. Finally in 2019, she was ready to make a cautious launch of a web-based toy business, called Parkway Presents in honor of her dad. Little did she know that her start-up would have the perfect business model to respond to COVID.
Operating her web business out of her house, Lisa offered an assortment of curated toys with options for gift wrapping and personal local delivery. Her experience as a teacher led her to prioritize high-quality, educational toys that deliver “unplugged fun.” During the pandemic, the online store quickly became popular with homebound families and grandparents sending gifts. That early success, and the resulting network of loyal customers, supported the opening of a physical Parkway Presents store in the White Plains Shopping Center in 2022.
Having a brick-and-mortar location has completely transformed Lisa’s business model, moving from solely online sales to overwhelmingly in-store. “People really enjoy the in-person experience, coming in to see and touch the products and getting advice,” she explains. “For the first six months we were open, customers were constantly thanking us for being there. It was something the community really needed.”
Sari Wiaz, owner of toy company Baby Paper, has been impressed with the evolution of Parkway Presents. “We connected when Lisa was cultivating her gift business out of her home and she added Baby Paper to the products she offered,” explains Sari. “She has a passion for specialty retail, carrying on her family’s legacy. It is inspiring as a manufacturer, and fellow small business owner, to see her expand her business with her retail location. She knew what she wanted in a storefront, and found it in Northbrook. It was amazing to see her at a toy trade show, where she honed her keen eye on the latest trends for her customers. And of course, she still does an incredible job in creating the perfect gift for kids of all ages (and kids at heart).”
As an emerging business on the rise, Parkway Presents continues to innovate with unique products and the highest degree of customer service. Those qualities, forged by a lifetime in retail, demonstrate the enduring value of small, local businesses.