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Boon Companion reopens with old charm, new look

As the saying goes, when one door closes another door opens and that is quite literally the case with Claremont’s legendary toyshop, Boon Companion.

After 31 years in business, longtime owners Reed and Nancy Johnson closed their doors for the very last time and handed their keys over to La Verne residents and new owners, John and Chris Peltecki.

“We took the keys on February 28 and about two weeks later, we opened both our doors for business,” Mr. Peltecki said. “Both doors are always open—that seems to be the thing people notice the most.”

Located on the corner of Harvard Avenue and Second Street, the shop’s name remains the same. However, Boon Companion has recently undergone some minor renovations, including new paint, lighting and a more stroller-friendly layout. But it’s what hasn’t changed at “the shop around the corner” that is going to appeal to both new and returning customers.

“It was 100 percent important to us to retain the charm,” Mr. Peltecki explained. “The wood flooring has a lot of character. The community likes the character of the store so we just cleaned it up a bit. You can’t completely renovate it or it’s gone.”

What has changed is the available toy selection with many new additions to the shelves. While favorites like Playmobil and The Original Green Toys remain, kids aged eight months to 80 years can now also pick up Lego sets, puzzles and a new selection of board games as well as books, educational toys and craft kits.

And you might be surprised about the big sellers in this toyshop. “Educational toys are a huge hit and we do really well with books,” Mr. Peltecki noted. “With all the colleges around us, we have a lot of interest. The majority of our core business is the community itself.”

Clearly, the Pelteckis know what they’re talking about when it comes to the toy industry. The couple—along with Chris’ brothers Jay and Sean Demircift—are also the proud owners of Puzzle Zoo, a successful chain of six toy stores located throughout the Los Angeles area.

However, what Boon Companion offers that Puzzle Zoo cannot is a sense of community. “People come in here who have been shopping here since they were 8 years old. With the other stores, it’s mostly tourists. It’s just a different vibe.”

With the shop open seven days a week, Mr. and Ms. Peltecki have spent the past month or so learning about their customers needs and adjusting their inventory to fit them. This, according to Mr. Peltecki, is the couple’s biggest challenge thus far.

“Trying to maximize what the community wants takes time,” he said. “You can’t bring everything that everybody wants, but you try to take the majority and say okay, educational toy and books are big so that’s a big plus for us.”

Also high on the list for the new owners is the Boon Companion customer experience. “I’ve been in retail for a long, long time and I think customer service is my number-one priority,” he said. “If the customer comes in and they’re not happy, I always tell them if there’s something—good or bad—just let me know. My main goal is to let our customers know if you bought something and your son or daughter doesn’t like it, come on back. Don’t feel bad! Just bring it back and pick out something else or get your money back. We want the customers to be happy.”

For the Pelteckis, the words of advice when they first met from Ms. Johnson continue to ring true: “Take care of the community and the community will take care of you.”

Ms. Johnson clearly knows what she’s talking about and practices what she preaches.

Since ownership of Boon Companion changed hands, she has been into the shop a couple of times and believes customers will definitely enjoy the new place. “They did a lot of things to fix it up, it’s really nice and open and bright,” she said. “The new owners are making it their own and that’s a good thing.”

Ms. Johnson and her husband Reed are enjoying their retirement and look back on their last day in the shop with great memories. Surrounded by the people who’ve supported them, they closed their doors for the last time.

“It was raining so hard, but we had lots of friends and customers come by all day, bringing notes and cards and telling us how much the store meant to them,” Ms. Johnson recalled. “It was such a good send off.”

In the days that followed the store closure, Mr. Johnson spent some time finishing up bookwork, taxes and other things with the store but, as promised, the couple is now making great use of their retirement. When they aren’t babysitting their grandkids or sprucing up their yard, the Johnsons are busy planning their travels.

“We’ve taken a couple of daytrips—one to the Ronald Reagan Library, which is something I’d always been wanting to do,” Ms. Johnson said. “And we’re planning a trip for the middle of May to see our friends in Oregon. We’re taking the train up there, so that should be fun.”

While the Johnsons are enjoying their retirement, there are a few things they do miss about the toy business. “I miss my customers, my products and the conventions,” Ms. Johnson said. “We didn’t go this year because it was too soon. We miss the reps. We made some really good friends, so it might be fun to go next year.”

Boon Companion is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Pelteckis can be reached at (909) 625-1993.

—Angela Bailey



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