EDWARDSVILLE - Trina Vetter calls it Edwardsville's "It's a Wonderful Life" moment.
"We're not literally walking in with piggy banks in hand, we're doing it electronically," said Vetter, a long-time customer of Once Upon a Toy.
This week the town has rallied around the bright-purple toy store facing a crisis: Its bank planned to call its business loan and owner Shawnta' Ray would have to close her doors. The unusual toy store has been an Edwardsville mainstay for 26 years, though Ray had purchased it from the original owner in 2006.
Faced with losing the store, the Edwardsville community donated via a crowd funding website called CrowdTilt. Late Tuesday, the bank agreed that if they could raise $75,000 by Friday, they would not call the loan.
As of midafternoon Thursday, the site had raised $54,674.
But that isn't where it stopped. Vetter and other customers fanned out across the Edwardsville-Glen Carbon area and got other small businesses to donate. Dozens of restaurants, shops and services have pledged their own money or a percentage of their sales to the cause, and "Save the Toy Store" signs cropped up across town.
Even at 1 p.m., the lunch crowd at Wang Gang was larger than usual. Owner Bryan O'Day estimated his sales at 50 percent higher than usual for dinner on Wednesday and lunch on Thursday, which he attributes to his pledge of 10 percent to the toy store.
O'Day said it's not just sympathy to another embattled small company: It's also good business.
"The more alive a strip is, the more business it brings. The more alive a community is, the more business it brings," O'Day said.
Mary Burke, owner of Olive Oil & More, said after moving her business across town recently, she "feels their pain," and likewise is donating 10 percent.
"I can tell you most larger landlords are looking for national companies, not small businesses," Burke said. "If I can do anything to help support another small business, I will."
A Chicago law firm with an Edwardsville branch office got into the action Thursday. TorHoerman Law pledged to match all donations made between 4 and 5 p.m. Thursday. Papa Murphy's Pizza offered 30 percent of all orders who mention the toy store during ordering. Annie's Custard, What to Wear, Studio 11, To-Do's Party Supply, Bin 51, Avon at St. Clair Square, Tot Spot and Ooh La La are some of the businesses donating, as well as online retailers and independent salespeople.
Even at Beyond Timbuktu, a curio and import shop that closed its doors this month, there is a giant sign that said they are out of business, so customers should go spend their money at Once Upon a Toy.
Kara Beyers, mother of two, went around to the participating businesses Thursday and gave them bright purple balloons - just like the purple walls of Once Upon a Toy.
"It's a place where I grew up, and it's special to me and my kids," Beyers said. "You can't get that experience at Toys R Us. We have to support our local businesses, and not just when they're hurting."
It's not just a store, Beyers said: It's an experience. She said it's important as an example to children, too. "We welcome growth, but we also want to support the businesses at the heart of this community," she said.
And the toy store is simply a special place, they said.
"It's like (the TV show) 'Cheers,' they always know your name - and your kids and what you've bought in the past," Vetter said. "This is passionate. This is from the heart. This is personal."
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2501.