With the 2018 Mardi Gras season ramping up as a regionally unique continuation of the holiday tradition, small businesses in the Port City that service festivities are also jumping into overdrive. Sales goals for some over the next few weeks may constitute the bulk of their bottom line for the rest of the year.
In Mobile, locally owned retailer Toomey’s Mardi Gras probably leads the charge in making sure various organizations — residents and visitors alike — are well stocked and elbow-deep in swirling masses of Carnival accoutrements until the finale on Fat Tuesday.
Founded in 1978 by Jack and Ann Toomey, the supplier is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year under the steady stewardship of son and second-generation owner Stephen Toomey.
One of seven children, Toomey’s adult siblings are spread throughout the country, with the exception of a few involved locally in real estate and medicine. Stephen was the only one to return in 1995 to work exclusively in the family business. He returned not as the prodigal son, but rather as a successor intent on elevating the family brand to another level of growth.
At the start, father Jack was a member of a Mardi Gras association in the 1970s and in the habit of collecting Mardi Gras throws all over the Southeast in his job as a traveling salesman. Over the years, this amassing of trinkets outgrew the garage and invaded the family den before mother Ann insisted on starting a part-time business to sell products with the goal of turning a profit, as opposed to collecting dust.
Originally opening inside a 3,000-square-foot space downtown with only a few dozen styles, fast forward to today where visitors can step inside a store that has morphed into a 70,000-square-foot tourist attraction. It offers a walking warehouse bead tour, moonpie samples and a pictorial history on the walls showing Mardi Gras announcements dating back to the 1800s. There are even float piece design displays offering a close-up look at parade design workmanship rarely seen elsewhere.
Inventory when Toomey’s first opened included just a few dozen brands, but today more than 5,000 different types of items are available for sale, including throws, medallions, consumables, costumes, masks and other assorted knick-knacks.
One of the first initiatives Toomey implemented for the store upon his return was creation of a website in 1999, which a year later, in 2000, early pioneer internet provider AOL ranked as the No. 1 search site for Mardi Gras beads in the country.
An overseas wholesale relationship with vendors in China helped lower costs substantially. Toomey was quick to emphasize the fact that all overseas trade is done through the Port of Mobile.
Corporate sponsorships later became a significant part of his business model, with Southern Comfort coming on board in the mid-2000s, putting in a sizable order for brand logos on Mardi Gras beads and boas.
This was soon up by Hardee’s, Fireball and GEICO insurance utilizing Toomey’s products to brand their Mardi Gras supplies over the ensuing years. Trade shows are another part of Stephen Toomey’s expansion plans, with Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse recently using Toomey products at trade shows in the region.
Customized medallions, cups and footballs for local Mardi Gras associations have increasingly been a revenue generator for the retailer as well. The store also services seasonal events such as St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July and Christmas as part of Toomey’s plan to provided products to customers throughout the year.
The addition of a Daphne store in 2017 was another successful move for Toomey, and the retailer now employs more than 70 workers during the busy season. Staffing slows down to around 15 for the rest of the year and business remains steady post Carnival season.
The retailer also partners with the downtown Mobile Carnival Museum, which, according to Toomey, enhances the experience for visitors by giving tourists a historic as well as contemporary perspective of Mardi Gras locally.
For its 40th anniversary, Toomey’s is partnering with local radio station 92ZEW to offer a $500 gift card for use in the store through drawing on Feb. 2. On Facebook, shoppers can find discounts ranging from 20 percent to 30 percent for purchases on in-store items in both the Mobile and the Daphne locations. Additional information on Toomey’s anniversary deals and activities can be found on its website.
Commercial real estate moves
• Ed Jones, general manager of J&J Furniture, announced the family-owned business — with four retail stores and a 100,000-square-foot distribution center — are closing for business this year. J&J employs 70.
The company was founded by the Jones family in 1967, and today its retail locations collectively encompass some 125,000 square feet and more than 50 name brands. Sites shutting down are located at Tillmans Corner, Saraland, Spring Hill and Daphne.
“It’s been a great experience serving the people of the Gulf Coast for decades. We will miss fulfilling the home furnishings needs of our many loyal customers, but it’s time to retire and spend more time with family,” Jones said.
Inventory is now being sold to the public in the “Great $6 Million Retirement Closing Sale.” The Lynch Sales Co. of Chattanooga is working with the Jones family in the transition.
• Burton Clarke of Cummings Real Estate and Richard Weavil with The Weavil Co. recently sold a 3000-square-foot property located at 1132 Hillcrest Road in Mobile. Clark represented the seller and Weavil worked for the buyer. The site will be used for medical purposes, according to Weavil.
• Hues Salon + Skin Care, an Aveda Concept brand salon, recently signed a lease for 1,198 square feet of space in the Staples Retail Center at 1802 U.S. Hwy. 98 in Daphne, across from the Target Shopping Center. The salon is slated to open for business at the beginning of February. Niki Coker of NAI Mobile brokered the transaction.
• Alabama Credit Union recently purchased the former TrustMark Bank building at the corner of Schillinger Road South and Cottage Hill Road for $1.05 million. The credit union made extensive renovations to the branch for an undisclosed amount. Pratt Thomas of Merrill P. Thomas Co. Inc. represented the buyer. Marl Cummings III with Cummings and Associates worked for the seller.