Since 1986, The Learning Tree has been one of the only locally owned toy stores in Missoula. In mid-April, though, The Learning Tree will be closing its doors for good.

According to owner and store manager Gillian Fetz, the recent economic slump was a major cause for the store's closure. "Economic productivity certainly contributed pretty significantly to our decision. Since the economic downturn in 2008 sales have just significantly declined, just continually. That makes it really hard to be in business."

Fetz says sales have declined by around 40% since the 2008 crash.

The Learning Tree was often characterized as a local, independent toy store in its advertising. When asked if Missoula was there for her store during the downturn, Fetz said, "I think Missoula has a wonderful supportive base for local business to thrive. I think people don't think 'local business' when they think Southgate Mall. So, for us to be in the mall, I'm not sure that tapped us into our target market."

Fetz added that throughout their long history in Southgate Mall, that the mall has always been supportive.

Aside from the general economic decline, Fetz mentions online shopping as an element in her store's changing fortunes. "It's easier to get different and unusual toys when you have at your fingertips," Fetz said. "I think it has just changed: the economy has changed and I think the way people spend money on their kids has probably changed."

The Learning Tree won't officially close its doors for another three or four weeks. With the official announcement of the closure The Learning Tree is selling off its stock at 30%, a discount that can be added to the 10% already given to teachers.

Fetz says The Learning Tree will not be sold. When the store closes, it will be closed for good.

Gillian Fetz: