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Toy Boat sets sail

Owners say crushing debt forced them to shutter the Corona del Mar business.

March 18, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • After trying to keep it afloat, the owners of iconic toy store Toy Boat Toy Boat Toy Boat were forced to close their last location in Corona Del Mar recently.
After trying to keep it afloat, the owners of iconic toy… (DON LEACH )

When Toy Boat Toy Boat Toy Boat owners Lori and Mike Curtin locked up at 5 p.m. Friday, they cried.

"We put our life into this business, and we're just tapped out," said Lori, 40. "We can't do any more."

The store's website encourages customers to say its name — a classic childhood tongue twister — three times, fast. There won't be much need for that anymore, however, since the Curtins shuttered the Corona del Mar specialty toy store last week.

A note stuck to the door alerted passers-by: "It is with a very heavy heart we have decided to close our beloved iconic toy store in Corona del Mar.

"Like so many other small businesses this economy has taken its toll on us. Unfortunately we did not have the necessary capital to stock the store to our satisfaction or our customers."

The note is signed by the Curtins, who, with this labor of love, followed in the footsteps of their families, both of which were involved in the toy industry.

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"It got too difficult for me to be in the store with customers," Lori said, crying. "These people are like family, and this wasn't just a hobby for us, it was our life."

Some customers reacted rudely about Toy Boat's low stock levels and expressed disbelief that it remained open, by making audible, hurtful comments, she said.

For every one of those interactions, however, Lori described developing several meaningful relationships over the store counter and making friends with customers who stopped by, not for a sale, but to lend an ear.

"They kept us going," she said. "They would say nice things, or just be positive, and that, to me, went farther than them buying anything. If it wasn't for those relationships, we would have closed long ago."

Crushing debt eventually forced the couple's hand, she said.

The family-owned-and-operated store made headlines in July with the initial news that it might close. Bill Handel of KFI radio stepped in to earn the store some additional time with a cash mob — where supporters are asked to support a local business by making purchases — but the results proved short-term.

While the Curtins hoped the inflow of community support would help them get back on their feet, they encountered "aggressive creditors," who refused to support them. The family also has a substantial bank loan.

Soon, there was just nothing left to give.

"We felt the effects of the recession since 2009," Lori said. "We saw a decline in our business, and the rents never changed, although our sales did."

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