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Toy store owner ready for 2021 shopping rush

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com
Shelves are stocked, the toy store owner wears a bright smile, and customers are lined up outside despite freezing temperatures to snag the season’s latest gizmos. At least that is usually how movies like “A Christmas Story” (1983) or “Christmas Grace” (2014) tend to portray the annual holiday shopping rush.

In reality, however, last year’s holiday shopping season was far from any 1983 classic, 1990s or even 2000s interpretation. In 2020, John Peltekci, owner of Boon Companion Toys in Claremont, still had toys occupying the shelves of the family-owned store. But the grim truth was that Village customers — and the smile on Peltekci’s face — were nowhere to be seen.

Locals might believe Boon Companion Toys would be one of those few stores to have a line running out the door during the holidays, especially given the audience they target. On the contrary, Peltekci explained that 2020 did not just come with a rough holiday season, it capped a hard year.

“Well, 2020 doesn’t exist. We pretty much didn’t have any business,” he said. “I lost employees, I lost inventory. I couldn’t get inventory back again. And then there was no business [traffic], nobody wanted to come in the physical store.”

Like many businesses in Los Angeles County, the March 17, 2020 orders forced Boon Companion Toys to close until further notice. Peltekci recalled that March Tuesday came with a “very eerie feeling.”

“I remember looking outside, closing the back door, and putting the alarm on and going, ‘Okay, let’s see what’s going to happen next,’” he said.

What happened next, according to Peltekci — whose store has to compete with big name toy retailers like Walmart and Target year-round — were applications for business loans. Peltekci said he acquired an SBA loan, and emphasized that his landlord was very flexible in working with him throughout the pandemic.

Boon Companion Toys eventually got the green light to partially reopen in the summer of 2020 and Peltekci used the opportunity to set up a common business practice used by various Village businesses at the time: adding curbside and delivery options to online orders. While the shop was closed on the outside, Peltekci worked behind the scenes on the inside to fulfill online orders that trickled in — though the online traffic was not generating much in sales.

“Curbside was very, very little. You would do two deliveries, three deliveries [per month], and that’s not enough to sustain a business,” Peltekci said. “I did [deliveries] on my own to be honest with you. If we did curbside we’d be here for a little bit, [but] that didn’t work out so well. And then on Instagram we posted that we would do deliveries and that was a little bit better [for traffic].”

The holiday rush that spans between the months of October, November and December is one of the store’s biggest times of the year; however, with COVID-19 around in 2020, there was not much of a rush to the iconic toy store nor their online inventory. Over its course, Peltekci said the pandemic brought about numerous challenges and changes that now force him to work “twice as hard.”

“Nothing is easy anymore. You have to work twice as hard to do a half or the same thing. Everything has changed, from logistically to get the product in, to your sales reps, to cost of goods, the cost of shipping, everything has changed,” he said, also noting that technology has come to play a bigger role in today’s market.

Boon Companion fully reopened for business in April 2021 after getting the go-ahead from L.A. County, although the store, along with the rest of the world, is still experiencing some delays in shipping, according to Peltekci.

“Things are still coming, there’s still products that are out there that are coming, it’s just it’s getting slower. Instead of every one package, or one shipment coming all at once, it’s coming in four different, smaller shipments instead of one large one,” Peltekci said. “It’s definitely affecting [others around], but for me so far, not as much.”

Since Boon Companion Toys opened in 1980, the store has comfortably occupied the distinguishable, brown, corner space off Harvard Avenue and Second Street, selling nothing but toys — and bringing joy — to kids of all ages. According to Peltekci, the store sells nearly all types of toys for children, and adults who are kids at heart.

“From Barbies, to Legos, to puzzles, to educational [toys], to books. Wood toys … to action figures. I’m trying to think,” he said before adding, “We have all the remote-control cars, we have them for older kids, younger kids, and everything in between. From collectables, like I said, to science and educational, to books, to games, puzzles … everything.”

The toy store opened under the ownership of Nancy and Reed Johnson four decades ago. Just over 10 years ago, the Johnsons sold the shop to the current owner. Peltekci said he not only has previous experience in the retail industry selling toys, but he’s also a Claremonter with family in the neighboring cities of San Dimas and La Verne. Given his CV and family’s proximity, Peltekci shared that it was an easy decision to buy the shop.

“Claremont is probably, since I grew up, one of the best communities and it’s a great little shop to be in. So, it was a no-brainer [to purchase the business],” he said.

Peltekci clearly enjoys the work that comes with owning the toy shop, but nothing really could have prepared him for the struggles of 2020. Peltekci admitted that he’d never want to go back, relive or experience 2020 again, but shared that Boon Companion Toys would not have made it through the pandemic without customers’ support.

Since the store has reopened, Peltekci is nothing short of happy to be back behind the counter talking with customers. He said since reopening, 2021 has been good to him.

“Well, the customers have been great, the community has been great, they support the store,” he said. “Now that we’re back open everything’s been good.”

Despite just reopening fully in April, Peltekci said Boon Companion Toys is already on track toward equaling their 2019 profit margins. If all keeps going accordingly and the store does well this year, Peltekci has a feeling he can surpass 2019 and 2020’s numbers.

“If you compare [2021] to 2019, we’re not there yet number-wise, but we’ll see what happens at the end of the year. But we’re close.”

Asked if he’ll have enough toys this year for children to open Christmas morning, Peltekci responded with a hearty “Yes! One hundred percent, no doubt.”

Boon Companion Toys is located at 145 North Harvard Avenue, directly across from the Claremont Post Office, on the corner of Harvard and Second. Customers, and tourists, can stop by Peltekci’s one-of-a-kind store Monday through Saturday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You may call the store at (909) 625-1993.

 

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