Like a scene out of the classic Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the town of Bedford Falls, in this case Newport Beach and much of Southern California, came to the rescue of today’s real-life version of George Bailey. Toy Boat! Toy Boat! Toy Boat! has been an iconic toy store in the heart of Corona del Mar for 50 years, but in past years has fallen on hard times.
Lori and Mike Curtin, who bought this location along with three others in 2007, were running out of time and the clock stopped. Tuesday. At the 11th hour, mega-giant radio station, KFI-AM 640 came to the rescue along with its #1 broadcast host, Bill Handel, leading the charge. As a crowd estimated at 400-500 strong streamed in and out of the East Coast Highway location, Bill was there to meet and greet and banter with the appreciative fans.
From as far away as Rancho Cucamonga, the toy-loving and supportive crowd bought toys for themselves as well as some to donate to CHOC, almost clearing the shelves of inventory.
“Today we did about six times the volume as a normal weekday, and we are absolutely shocked at how much support we have gotten from old friends and new,” Owner Lori Curtin said.
With cashier lines continuously half a dozen deep, the sincere and genuine outpouring of good faith was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. Reporters from all the major outlets in the area, as well as other Los Angeles based stations, brought representatives to cover the story.
Bill Handel quipped in his normal smart-alecky style but confided that this story brought in two to three times the normal amount of response over anything they have done before. Program Director Robin Bertolucci suggested the idea and in just a few days made it happen.
“Businesses are struggling everywhere, but this story really resonated with us. A local family-owned business that was struggling made this a no-brainer,” Bill confided. “It was an easy decision and we’ve been wanting to get involved with a Ca$h Mob for some time.”
And they made the right decision.
This event was promoted Monday morning on Handel’s show and since then the groundswell has grown. Garnering support from local businesses made this even more emotional as Bristol Farms Fashion Island location, without being asked, brought in cases of water and a food tray for the crowd. Local business owner Gay Himebaugh from Seaview Secretarial was asked to create a credit card form for the Curtin’s to gather telephone sales and in no time created one and brought copies to the to store.
“I’m a small business owner myself, so I can relate to this challenging market,” Gay said.
But the Mob’s appearance may still not cure all of the owner’s ills and they acknowledged that they may have waited too long to make strategic changes in their business. What happened in CDM was the first time that a media giant has ventured into the Ca$h Mob arena and probably not the last.
“It’s a feel good story,” said business consultant Dave Naidu with Opis Network. “But it is not necessarily the end of the story. The event itself is just the first step and now it is critical that the owner’s develop a strategy to keep their momentum.”
And he should know. For the past several years Naidu and his company, Opis Network, has specialized in turning businesses around by joint-venturing with cities throughout Orange County--including Newport Beach-- and “reinventing” many businesses and their owners.
“Today was lightening in a bottle,” he said. “And the chance of something this significant happening again to save this business is next to impossible.”
The Curtin’s know this to be true and decided to use this Step One to replenish their inventory, negotiate an agreement with their creditors and to plow forward. “We had given up hope,” Owner Mike Curtin said. “But now that we had a wake-up call we have an obligation to launch our business and show our loyal followers that what they did made a difference.”
In the next several weeks Toy Boat 3 will have another event to maintain momentum and the owners, staff and Newport Beach neighbors are 100 percent committed to making it work.