As a native Atlantan, I have fond memories of Richards Variety Store in the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center. I loved riding the mechanical horse for 10 cents as a child and selecting a toy, and years later, I took my own kids to ride the pony, which originally resided out front on the sidewalk. Then and now, it remains a wow.
I recently spoke with Robert Klenberg, who owns and operates the Buckhead store with his wife Rachel. “Richards Variety Store opened at the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center on May 15, 1958. Our second store opened in Midtown on Oct. 6, 2008 and is now located at Ansley Mall and owned and run by my former wife Ming Yang.”
Klenberg continued, “The stores were founded by my grandfather Frank Garber, my uncle Richard Garber, and my father, Max Klenberg. Fifty years ago there were 500 stores like Richards within a 500-mile radius of Atlanta. Today there are two – Richards Midtown and Richards Buckhead. No matter how much we change the store, it stays the same. The horse at Peachtree Battle still costs a dime and was inspired by the Lone Ranger and Silver.
“Richards Variety Store is a shopper’s paradise,” he boasted. “We carry housewares, greeting cards, hardware, toys, classic American icons like Mr. Potato Head and Tinker toys, office supplies, games, novelties, and cookware. Our true patrons are children of all ages, who frequently protest loudly when it’s time to leave. We have the biggest selection and best prices of LEGO, Thomas the Train, Calico Critters, Bruder trucks, Playmobil, and children’s books in the city of Atlanta.”
Of the pandemic, Klenberg shared, “COVID has certainly affected retailing considerably and different companies in different ways, particularly the brick and mortar stores. We recommend masks and we ask everyone to stay 6 feet apart.”
So what are the best-selling items? “It is almost impossible to say. Day to day and the time of year varies what flies out of our store since we carry thousands of items. Before COVID, the book section had grown and is doing well. We carefully curate our book selections, and we carry every major publisher for all ages including children and adults.
“During the onset of COVID we were also selling tons of jigsaw puzzles and they took off and are still selling well. Since the lockdown started, people have been remodeling and hardware is selling more as a result. Add eating at home and home-cooking and we also had a pick-up in cookware from kitchen gadgets to all sorts of pans and pots. What’s wonderful about Richards is that we are a family store where a family can shop together.“ He said the options at Richards allow families to “do something they enjoy at a time when so many of their other outlets are curtailed; they are amused here, entertained and can buy really cool stuff.”
While looking back on those wonderful days browsing through my memories of shopping at Richards, I recently learned that our friend and neighbor Philip Karlick worked there part time as a teenager during high school. Checking in with him, he said, “I loved working at Richards and enjoyed waiting on customers and working for Robert’s dad Max, who was such a mensch. This was our neighborhood store, and it will always be a kid’s paradise and Atlanta landmark.”
Fast forwarding to the present, Klenberg said some of the store’s employees have been working there for decades. The fact that much of the store hasn’t changed speaks to the treasure trove of items discovered within.
After all these years, no matter how often the store is updated, the look and feel stays the same. As an essential business, Richards Variety Store at Peachtree Battle Shopping Center’s COVID hours are 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Sunday seven days a week.