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Claremont toyshop owners embark on final holiday season

At the end of February, Reed and Nancy Johnson, longtime owners of Boon Companion, will bid goodbye to the toy business.

Fans of the beloved “shop around the corner” will be delighted to hear that while the original proprietors will be moving on, the Claremont business will remain a toyshop, even retaining its unique name.

This kind of legacy wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Sometime around the first of the year, the Johnsons, who have been pondering retirement for a while, decided they would shut their doors at the start of 2014. They stopped ordering new merchandise for several weeks, assuming they would be liquidating.

As their stock dwindled, some visitors to the store, whose front doors open right onto the corner of Harvard Avenue and Second Street, asked what was going on. Many were dismayed to learn the toy store would soon be closing.

“A lot of people have been saying, ‘That’s what’s on this corner. That’s what I expect to find here,” Ms. Johnson said. “It’s been fun to have people come in and say we like shopping here and we’ll miss you.”

Once the couple decided they would stay open through their 31st holiday season, they began restocking their shelves. In March, they even made their usual pilgrimage to an annual toy show, largely to say goodbye to the sales representatives with whom they have forged relationships over the years.

Many of them expressed sadness at the thought of the Johnsons closing their shop, an oasis of stuffed animals, dolls, books, craft sets and playthings of every ilk, including an extensive selection of games.

One longtime rep was particularly insistent and said, “Let me find someone to buy the store,” according to Ms. Johnson.

True to his word, he spoke to a friend named Jay Demircift who—along with his brother Sean Demircift and his sister and brother-in-law John and Chris Peltekci—is the owner of a chain of toy stores called Puzzle Zoo. Since the opening of a first shop in Santa Monica in 1993, Puzzle Zoo has expanded to include a second location in Santa Monica and stores in Pacific Palisades, Costa Mesa and Los Angeles as well as in Dallas, Texas.

Not long ago, Jay moved to Live Oak, an unincorporated area on the border of Claremont and La Verne. When he heard the Johnsons might be open to selling Boon Companion, he was intrigued.

“I said, ‘Wow, this in my community. I don’t actually have a store here,’” he said. “And since I have an office and warehouse in Glendora, it was a pretty easy decision.”

He expressed his interest in buying Boon Companion and the Johnsons were amenable. “We thought it would be nice for the community, in terms of continuity,” Mr. Reed said.

Mr. Demircift could easily have decided to hoist a seventh Puzzle Zoo sign. Instead, he opted for further continuity.

“Puzzle Zoo hasn’t built a brand here in this area, and Boon Companion is so well-known and recognized so much,” he explained. “We decided it was a good idea to keep the name, and we love the name.”

The name, in case you’ve wondered, means “a close friend who often joins one in seeking fun.”

Claremont financial adviser Jess Swick is pleased that shoppers will still be able to rely on this old friend of a toyshop, albeit under new ownership. Still, he feels a bit nostalgic at the thought of the Johnsons leaving.

Mr. Swick’s four children were babies when Boon Companion opened in 1983 at its original location on First Street. Before long, he became a regular. “Every single one of my kids has bought more than their fair share of gadgets, toys, puzzles, games and books there,” he said.

With his kids grown, Mr. Swick now brings his 4-year-old grandson into Boon Companion. Little Otis loves to play at a little station equipped with toy trains and tracks.

“What impresses me about Reed and Nancy is they actually know about every game and toy in the place,” Mr. Swick said. “They know how it works and they have recommendations.”

Though he hates to see them go, Mr. Swick said he is happy for the Johnsons.

“If anyone’s provided a significant community service to Claremont and all of its kids, it’s been them,” he said. “I think they’re going to have a nice retirement.”

Ms. Johnson says they will miss their customers, many of whom have become friends, and they will miss the product. In fact, she plans to still attend toy shows after they retire. The last day of these expos are particularly neat, because it gives her a chance to swoop down on sample sales, buying the kind of toys that make their home a haven for their four granddaughters, ranging from ages 5 to 9.

But it’s time to let go, Mr. Johnson said.

“We’re at that age,” he said. “Some people like to work so much they would probably keep doing it till they fell over at the counter. We’re not going to do that. We want a better outcome.”

That includes the Johnsons doing some of the things they have put off for years, like travel. First up will be a trip north to see some friends in Claremont who moved to Oregon some time ago.

“We don’t go to visit them because we never get away, but they’ve always been really good about visiting us,” Mr. Johnson said. “They’re really good friends—we’re really bad friends. We’ve told them as soon as we’re done with the store, we’ll pay them a visit.”

The Johnsons, who love the beach, will stay for a time in Claremont and then relocate to their condo in Carlsbad. Ms. Johnson, an inveterate crafter who occasionally hosts demonstrations on projects like scrapbooking and card-making at Stamp Your Heart Out in Claremont, will likely have more time for creative pursuits. At the last Village Venture street fair, Mr. Johnson rejoined the Audubon Society in hopes of rekindling his interest in bird-watching.

“We’ll be catching up,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we have wanted to do for a long time but haven’t, because we’ve been concentrating on raising a family and running a business.” 

The Johnsons will continue running their business through the holiday season and several weeks beyond. Soon after Claremont’s annual tree lighting ceremony on December 6, they will add Sundays to their usual Monday through Saturday schedule, to better accommodate holiday shoppers. Later in the month, they will extend their hours, usually 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., closing at 7 p.m. for the final Christmas rush.

The Johnsons are treating this like any season. They have been getting in new things and are still placing orders. As always, they will provide free gift-wrapping.

“We’ll be prepared for Christmas,” Mr. Reed emphasized. “It’s got a little different feel to it, knowing it’s going to be our last one, but we’re looking forward to it.”

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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