Learning Express to close Military Cutoff shop

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Learning Express will close up shop at its Military Cutoff location next month in an effort, owners say, to streamline operations and find a little more free time. Photo courtesy Learning Express.
Learning Express will close up shop at its Military Cutoff location next month in an effort, owners say, to streamline operations and find a little more free time. Photo courtesy Learning Express.

Learning Express co-owner Shelley Hobson doesn’t like to use the word “closing” to describe the decision to close the doors of the local educational toy company’s Military Cutoff Road location.

“I prefer ‘moving,’ because when you say ‘closing,’ people think you are going out of business, which we are absolutely not doing,” Hobson said. “We’re just moving in with ourselves.”

Making a “lifestyle” choice, not a business one, Hobson and her husband and Learning Express co-owner, Ed, have opted to consolidate and streamline their efforts at their Oleander Drive shop. The last day of business at the Military Cutoff Learning Express is May 20.

The decision, Hobson said, was not an easy one–the couple did not want to disappoint its loyal customer base. But with the Military Cutoff store’s lease coming up for renewal this spring, the Hobsons looked around and realized the location and its 20-year-old fixtures needed some major upgrades.

Rather than undergo a serious renovation project, Hobson said she and her husband realized they could move merchandise and shift focus to the equally successful Oleander Drive store.

“We also have a desire not to be running back and forth from one side of the town to the other. We wanted to make things simpler for ourselves and our staff,” she said. “This will cut email communications in half. You know, two high volume stores requires lots of communication back and forth. We are ready to slow down just a little; not retire completely, but just slow down.”

The Hobsons opened Learning Express in 1995 at 5704 Oleander Drive in the shopping center that now houses Nationwide Insurance and Nicola’s Italian Restaurant. They relocated to the Military Cutoff site about a decade later.
Then, eight years ago, the Hobsons opened a second location, first in Hanover Center before moving to the current location next to Whole Foods.

Hobson said all employees–including two who have been with the company almost from the beginning–will retain their jobs, and for the most part customers have been supportive of the transition.

“We’re taking everything, including all the people who work with us, to the Oleander Drive location. When we explained it to our staff, they just looked at us and said, ‘congratulations.’ Ninety-five-plus percent of customers have been totally understanding. But the fact that some people are so emotional shows we’re doing what we set out to do, to create a connection with our community and our customers. And we do love our customers.”

As bittersweet as the move may be, Hobson said it really came down to she and her husband practicing what they preach to their employees.

“One thing we have always prided ourselves on–and what we need to follow ourselves–is we understand that people have lives. It’s not all about work,” she said. “What we do is a lot of fun but we need to have lives, as well.”

Learning Express kicked off a moving sale Monday, with the entire store discounted 25 percent, plus a selection of half-off clearance items.

Hobson said they will increase the discounts in the weeks and days leading up to the move. New sales will be announced via Learning Express’ Facebook page.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.