CdM’s Iconic Toy Boat Shop Faces Closure at Month’s End

posted: July 25th, 2012 04:45 am | 8Comments

A Corona del Mar landmark toyshop could close its doors forever next week, its owners have confirmed.

“We’re hoping for a miracle,” said Lori Curtin, who co-owns the Toy Boat Toy Boat Toy Boat shop with her husband, Michael Curtin. “It’s heart wrenching.”

Toy Boat, with its iconic toy drum neon sign in front, has been selling toys to Corona del Mar children for about 50 years, the Curtins said. About 20 years ago, it moved from a location in the 3100 block of East Coast Highway to its current location at 3331 East Coast Highway. Longtime residents recall the shop’s “Bible” –a book that children signed that allowed them to pick out a small toy each year on their birthdays.

The Curtins, who both grew up in families that worked in the toy business, bought the shops five years ago.

Business went well with stores on Westcliff Drive, in Newport Coast and Fashion Island.

“We had one really good year,” Lori Curtin said.

Then, they said, things went downhill.

Michael Curtin’s daughter, Colby, was diagnosed with a rare vascular cancer and died in 2009. The couple was reeling from the loss when the economy turned and then continued to spiral downward. And while rents didn’t decline, business did as more families turned to online retailers to buy toys and games.

“We had three really bad Christmases in a row,” Michael Curtin said. “Christmas carries us the rest of the year.”

Shelves weren’t filled with quite as many toys as in the heyday as the Curtins worked to close shops and consolidate. They closed the Westcliff shop in December, the Fashion Island shop in February and the Newport Coast shop in May.

“It was really hard to keep up,” Lori Curtin said. “It’s a Catch-22. The less product you have, the less money is to be made. The rents were taking everything.”

The Curtins posted on the Toy Boat Facebook page a plea for customers to come in and show support.

“Toy Boat is an icon in the community serving several generations of local customers,” the page states. “We have continued to support the local community during this difficult economy despite the challenges we have faced. It is our desire to stay in business, however, we need your help!!! Due to our struggles & rent increases, this may be our last month in business. Please come in & support us anyway you can this month so we can continue to support the town we live in & love so much.”

Besides shopping for toys, which range in price from a $250 Sbyke bike-skateboard combination toy to ten-cent doodads, Toy Boat supporters could make donations toward rent or offer other suggestions to help the Curtins keep the shop open, they said.

“We’ve put our life into this,” Lori Curtin said. “This is it.”

Toy Boat has supported local schools, donating gifts and toys for auctions, as well as contributing balloons and bags for the Spirit Run, first days of school and more.

One supporter learned of the shop’s troubles when soliciting a donation for Children’s Hospital Orange County’s oncology floor.

“She showed me a picture of her on the shelf by the front desk,” the woman said in an email blast to Newport Beach friends. “With tears in my eyes, I listened to more of her story and then she explained it has been a rough last couple of years with that as well as the economy.”

Karen Tringali, president of the Corona del Mar Residents Association, spoke as a resident and not for the group, saying the shop’s closure would be a blow to the community.

“(W)hat a loss,” she said in an email. “All my nieces, nephew, and friends’ children have received gifts from Toy Boy for the 12 years we’ve lived here. I was always able to find just the right gift . . . and wrapped to boot!”

Mayor Nancy Gardner, who grew up in Corona del Mar, called the news sad.

“I think it’s always sad when a small (not part of a chain) closes, and it’s particularly sad in a village like CdM,” she said in an email. “That’s what we love about it–that without getting into a car we can meet so many of our needs. Now, if it’s a children’s present we’ll have to go elsewhere” if the shop closes.

As word spread through the Corona del Mar business community, leaders also expressed concern.

“This is terrible news,” said Linda Leonhard, president of the Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce, which worked with Toy Boat each year to collect Toys for Tots at the Corona del Mar Christmas Walk.

The Curtins hope that something or someone will intervene and help save the business.

“That’s our hope and our dream,” Lori Curtin said. “That’s what we’re shooting for.”

8 Responses to “CdM’s Iconic Toy Boat Shop Faces Closure at Month’s End”



July 25th, 2012

My heart goes out to these store owners. I'm curious how other small toy shops make a go of it. There's a place in Dana Point called The Wee Loft that reminds me of Toy Boat. They've been there for years and seem to be successful, partly by utilizing children's gift registries, yearly holiday catalogs and other marketing strategies. Perhaps a conversation with the Wee Loft owners my spark some good ideas? Maybe this sort of avenue has already been explored. I just really hope the Toy Boat can turn things around.

The Morgans

July 25th, 2012

I truly hope they can make it. I'm going to try to get over there today and do some early Christmas shopping. We LOVE Toy Boat!!!

Lisa Tatum

July 25th, 2012

Sad News- I grew up in CdM- always calling it "toy store with the drum" I loved shopping there. I hope they can find away to save it.

Newport-Mesa Spirit Run

July 25th, 2012

Toy Boat has been a very loyal Spirit Run supporter for at least ten years. In the last several years, Toy Boat has donated thousands of dollars in prizes for our eight youth events, has attended our expo, and has been the pickup location for our youth prizes. This support was particularly remarkable these last several years with the tough economic environment. Toy Boat has made supporting schools and our children a priority. We hope that our community will now return the favor.


July 25th, 2012

That's sad. While it's been many years since I bought a toy (sad face) I remember Toy Boat as a child when it was next to the hardware store. The problem is the demographics of both the area and of retail in general have changed. When I was a kid CdM was full of children and Toy Boat or Christensen's Pharmacy (where Gina's and the bank is now ) were the only games in town. Now many families have been priced out of CdM. It's hard for stores like this to compete with the big box discount chains. And few small businesses can survive long term unless they own their building free and clear. That monthly rent nut is just too hard to crack when business slows. As an aside on the walk down memory lane if anyone cares, my second job was at the old donut shop where Gina's is now. I was 13 years old and used to get up at 4 am to make the donuts and have them all warm and ready when the local coffee crowd would start showing up about 5:30 am. Before that, when I was 11 or 12, I washed dishes at the sandwich shop where Gary's is now. I made .35 cents an hour. LOL Well I guess the loss of Toy Boat will make room for another rug shop or over priced furniture store.


July 26th, 2012

Really can't believe the Toy Boat is closing the original Corona del Mar store. It has such a great history with all the residents in town. My kids rode their bikes there when Mrs. McNeily had the store. Then Diane & Gary Naumann took it over and expanded it into 4 wonderful stores, all within 4 miles of each other. The stores were packed with speciality toys as well as the 15 cent candies. So sorry the new owners weren't able to keep things going in this economy. Toy Boat is really going to be missed.


July 30th, 2012

If you are able to survive until Christmas, offer free shipping, and put a BIG sign in your window. Good luck!

Mike Cowan

July 30th, 2012

it's a shame this toy store is going out of business, but it's a sign of the economy and poor business planning. They also had a second store that was in Newport Coast Shopping Center that closed last month. First off, the economy is doing horribly which everyone knows, I heard on the news that Toy Boat is paying $10,000 per month in rent, that is crazy! why didn't they negotiated their rent down to a realistic rate? Why hasn't their accountant sat down with them over a year ago to go over the numbers and help them with creating a business plan and strategy on how they could survive the following year? Also why are they not selling their toys through an ecommerce store, this is how a lot of retail stores are staying profitable, the younger generation are purchasing products online, you need to make changes in your business or you will not survive, which is exactly what is going on. Why are we are supporting a company when they have a poor business plan?

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