EDWARDSVILLE — Many are calling 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 Trina Vetter, a longtime customer of Once Upon a Toy.
By 8 p.m. Thursday, the residents and small businesses of Edwardsville had succeeded in raising the more than $75,000 to save the bright-purple toy store from closing.
All week the town has rallied around the store. First Mid-Illinois 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.
On Tuesday, volunteers launched an account at a crowd-funding website called CrowdTilt. Donations poured in from customers and friends, quickly reaching five digits. The goal was set at $76,875 to cover the website fee.
Late that day, the bank agreed that if the store could raise $75,000 by the end of the day Friday, the bank would not call the loan.
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 pledged their own money or a percentage of their sales to the cause, and "Save the Toy Store" signs cropped up across town.
Shortly after 8 p.m., a donation from Ann Tosovsky tipped the balance. Once Upon a Toy had raised tens of thousands, all within 72 hours.
Across town, people were talking about "Save the Toy Store" and seeking out businesses in support.
The lunch crowd at Wang Gang was larger than usual. Owner Ryan 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 of those salesto 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 Oils & More, said after moving her business across town recently, she "feels their pain," and likewise is donating 10 percent of sales.
"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."
TorHoerman Law, a Chicago law firm with an Edwardsville branch office got in on the action Thursday, donating $1,000 to the cause.
Papa Murphy's Pizza offered 30 percent of all orders from those who mention the toy store while ordering, and lines were out the door as dinnertime approached. 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 other businesses donating.
Even at Beyond Timbuktu, a curio and import shop that closed its doors last week, there was a giant sign telling customers to go spend their money at Once Upon a Toy. Owner Andi Smith used her FaceBook page to offer a match of her customers' donations up to $1,000 -- which took less than an hour.
"When you're a small business owner, it's personal," Smith said. "All of us struggle, and it breaks your heart. ... I was closing because I wanted to close. I was tired. They were getting the rug pulled out from under them.
"We are a small town, and we can make a difference," Smith said.
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."
Thursday was the 10th wedding anniversary for Shawnta' Ray and her husband, Rick Harmon. They could not be reached for comment.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2501.