New shop continues owners' long toy story

A tangle of deep green ivy surrounded the round anchor sign as if Toys Ahoy had been there for years, tucked among the high-end boutiques in Newport Beach's Westcliff Court.

And indeed, back when owners Gary and Diane Naumann ran their four beloved Toy Boat*Toy Boat*Toy Boat shops in the early 2000s, they had a location in that center.

But when Gary Naumann snipped a big red ribbon in the doorway of the 1,600-square-foot sunlit toy store Friday morning, it marked a fresh start.

The story of Toys Ahoy is something of a long and winding path.

At first, Gary said, Diane worked part time at a store called The Toy Shop, which had been open more than 50 years on Coast Highway in Corona del Mar.

Eventually, the owners of the shop lost their lease and opted to close. A shoe store took its place for a time.

Then, Gary said, "we got lucky."

Just after Christmas in 1994, he and his wife were strolling Coast Highway past the storefront where Diane had once worked selling toys.

It was empty and up for lease.

The couple left a note for the leasing agent, whose office wasn't far away.

On Feb. 3, 1995, they opened their first Toy Boat store there.

By 2005, there were four Toy Boat locations — the original in Corona del Mar, plus stores at Westcliff Court, Newport Coast and Fashion Island.

In 2007, the Naumanns decided to make their next move. They sold the four shops and moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., where they still live.

Over time, the recession took its toll. The Naumanns tried opening a toy shop outside Columbus, Ohio, but shuttered it.

Meanwhile, in Newport Beach, the Toy Boat stores were struggling. Last year, the last location — the Corona del Mar store — went out of business.

"It was tough to see them disappear, but it was hard times for everyone," Gary Naumann said. "We're looking forward, and we're going to build a great store."

He said that for him and his wife, the keys to success in a market increasingly dominated by online or big-box retailers are quality and attention to service.

"We wrap everything and assemble anything," he said.

On Friday, Diane Naumann cut pieces of brightly colored "Happy birthday" wrapping paper. Rolls of ribbon hung behind her.

She said she stocks the store with well-made toys for a discerning client base. "Nothing junky," she said. "I wouldn't buy it."

She pointed to a small tent covered with cartoon sea life — octopuses, fish, crabs. "Those are the best tents out there," she said.

She also sells items that children can buy with their allowance, such as bubble gum for a nickel or whoopee cushions.

Parents and their kids browsed shelves stacked high with puzzles, dolls, stuffed animals and wares for a well-appointed playhouse. Many of the toys bore classic brand names such as Calico Critters and Corolle, a maker of baby dolls designed in France.

William Duma, 9, gazed at a wall of Playmobil sets, eyeing in particular a cargo loading set.

"I have the police station," he said, gesturing to a set on the top shelf.

His mother, Jessica, said she and William had biked to the store from home.

"This is the prize at the end of the bike ride," she said, smiling at her son.

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