Learningsmith, the multimedia educational store chain founded in 1991, is closing. Employees at Learningsmith headquarters in Burlington, Mass., had no comment last week, and CEO Janet Emerson was unavailable to speak with PW. Sources at the company said that the decision to close was sudden and reportedly came when investors in Learningsmith voted to sell the company's stock to a liquidation firm. Some stores apparently will close by Christmas; others may remain open until January 1. Most items in stores are marked down 20%, and some are as much as 70% off. The Boston Herald reported that Paragon Capital Corp. had given Learningsmith a $30-million credit line in June 1998, but the company had not been able to raise additional capital since.
Learningsmith has 87 stores across the country, some of which have marketing alliances with local PBS television stations. With the slogan, "the general store for a curious mind," Learningsmith offers a mix of books, toys, software, videos, games and audio. While the company attracts children--who are the focus of its main competitors, Zany Brainy and Noodle Kidoodle--it has tried to emphasize that it offers products for "all ages."
Most Learningsmith stores are in upscale, costly malls in suburban areas. They average about 5000 square feet and are distinguished by the integration of products regardless of media. Thus, while other multimedia stores separate books from toys from videos, Learningsmith stores have thematic areas featuring a variety of products. The section on astronomy might contain stargazing books, telescopes and maps of the night sky and the travel section would include travel books, maps and travel videos. The company had been planning to sell products online, but had not opened an e-commerce Web site.
Learningsmith was founded by entrepreneur Marshall Smith. He remained at the company until 1994, when he resigned as chairman. Learningsmith's main investor has been Halpern, Denny & Co., a Boston venture-capital firm.
The end of Learningsmith came abruptly; publishers contacted by PW last week had not been given notice about the decision to close the outlets, and some publishers only learned of the chain's demise by noticing outlets with "going out of business" signs.