Stephen Toomey sells fun. His store, Toomey’s Mardi Gras, deals in a magnificent array of colorful beads, masks and other glittering carnival paraphernalia. Stephen’s parents, Jack and Ann Toomey, founded the Mobile institution more than three decades ago. Stephen says that his late father was always fond of Mardi Gras, but he never expected his love for Fat Tuesday would morph into a full-blown money-making business.
When Stephen joined the family shop in 1995, he brought with him a slew of new ideas. The company expanded, launched a website and opened a second location at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Today, with him and his wife, Betsy, at the helm, the business is more bustling than ever.
HOW DID TOOMEY’S GET ITS START IN THE BEAD BUSINESS?
My dad was a traveling dry goods salesman, and his territory took him throughout the Southeast. During his journeys, he would pick up things that he thought would make good Mardi Gras throws and bring them home for family and friends. Over the years, more and more people, even some we didn’t know, started requesting more stuff. My parents were storing everything in their home, and eventually my mom said, “I think it’s time we just opened a store.”
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR THE CARNIVAL RUSH?
We work on it year-round. Our preparations include traveling overseas to visit our suppliers, finding a good “crystal ball” that indicates what items will be popular for the coming year (which is the most difficult part), and unloading a lot of containers throughout the year. During the season, we must increase our staff tremendously, so we have a lot of hiring and training that must be done. We are also blessed to have some great people who have worked with us for years.
AFTER MARDI GRAS IS OVER, DO YOU DO ANYTHING TO UNWIND AND RELAX?
I like to compare the carnival season to a marathon. Once the race is over, my wife and I take a few days and spend them with our children. There’s nothing better.
HOW DO YOU KEEP BUSY DURING THE OFF-SEASON?
Many people think of us as just a bead and MoonPie store. But, once Fat Tuesday has come and gone, our Web and resell business keeps us occupied. We also do custom branding for corporations, and we sell St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas and Fourth of July supplies. We’ve even had brides who want a carnival-themed wedding.
Toomey’s Mardi Gras
755 McRae Ave., Suite A.
Mobile Carnival Museum Gift Shoppe by Toomey’s
355 Government St.