While there may be no physical golden tickets involved, local percussion and goods store Toko Imports is offering up ownership of its business in a modern day Willy Wonka story! Owner Polly Wood, after five years of operating the shop, has decided it’s time for the next generation to place their special touch on Toko Imports, a local favorite in Ithaca. In an effort to find a worthy and passionate owner like herself, Wood has taken to social media for a modern twist to find the next owner of the shop through a skill-based competition online.
The business, which was first opened in 1980 by Tom Kozlowski, has been in operation now for nearly 40 years. It’s no secret that the current and previous owners are passionate about it, as Kozlowski still helps out at the shop with drum repairs to this day. Once a customer herself, Wood took over the shop in 2014. With that, she added her own unique touch by bringing in an assortment of multi-cultural goddess-inspired gifts, and creating a community studio space, in addition to continuing to stock Toko’s vast drum and world percussion offerings.
After many years of traveling, studying and performing, Wood returned to Ithaca to raise her daughter near the family and town she loved growing up around, and during this time she bought Toko. Wood’s interest in the store began as a result of her musical talents. She said, “As a performing songwriter who doesn’t play guitar, I compose my songs using various drums and percussion. I’m a native Ithacan, and when returning home to visit family, I’d always stop into Toko to visit Tom and see his inspiring drum selection. That was just the beginning for me, which lead to an amazing journey of becoming the owner today.”
In addition to a successful business, Wood also has a family, a major factor in her decision to host the contest for Toko’s future. “My daughter is nearing ready to spread her wings to the world outside of Ithaca, just like I once did. I’m preparing for creative and career adventures as well, and I want Toko to thrive without me. There’s so much history and culture here, and Toko still has a story to tell. It’s just time for someone else to continue on its legacy,” said Wood.
The contest, which is 100% held online through a Facebook event and Win Toko Imports website, officially launches onAugust 20th. Entrants must be 18 years of age, able to pass a credit check, be living or willing to relocate to the Ithaca area to be physically present for the business, and sign a three-year lease with the historic DeWitt Mall where Toko makes its home.
To apply, entrants along with a $108 entry fee will submit their answers to a handful of questions about their experience and passion pertaining to drums and world percussion; to small, local businesses; to hands-on, experiential retail; to creating culture in downtown Ithaca; to their vision for the future of Toko; and why they think they would make the next great owner!
Toko will be donating a portion of the contest entry fees to Alternatives Impact, local 501(c)3 non-profit. This organization serves those in the Ithaca area who would typically be overlooked by mainstream financial institutions. The proceeds from Toko’s contest will go to a special fund to help small businesses.
“Toko believes that this cutting-edge alternative economic model for transfer of business ownership is fit for the times in our world’s changing economic landscape. We need creative, out-of-the-box thinking in order to help people in both our local and global economies thrive, and Toko’s contest is offering just that! We also wanted to find a way to encourage entrepreneurship in our community so we wanted to tie in the charitable angle as well.” said Wood.
Entries will be submitted digitally through the designated website: Win Toko Imports Contest Page where they will be prompted to register as an entrant and answer the contest questions (which allows them to be saved as a work-in-progress) and submit their entry when ready. In addition to answering the contest questions, entrants will be allowed to upload optional supporting documents or videos. The Win Toko Imports contest posts the Official Rules and Regulationsas well as important business information that are required to be read before submitting an entry.
During the judging period, entrants’ responses to contest questions will be judged blindly by a panel of judges using a pre-set scale to score each answer. This round of blind judging will narrow the entrants down to the top 20 highest scoring answers. A separate panel of judges will judge the second round. In this round, the entrants’ identities will be visible, as well as any additional support materials they opted to upload. In the second round of judging, the panel will also score the top 20 entrants answers using a pre-set scale to choose the winner. The winner will receive ownership of the business, including all inventory, fixtures and furnishings, and years of goodwill upon which to build from!
As mentioned above, the contest is 100% done online through boosting a Facebook event with a link to Win Toko Imports Contest Page. “We are very excited about the ownership transfer and seeing the future of Toko evolve. It’s going to be an amazing journey and next step for the shop. We are looking forward to seeing where the new ownership takes it and puts their own unique spin and vision on Toko!” said Wood.
For many, Toko has been more than a drum shop. Historically, it has been a warm and welcoming stop with a true Ithaca feel. As a college and tourist town, many people return to Ithaca cyclically or when their heart calls, and make it a point to stop into Toko. Some may even call it magical, and its history and story behind that reflects that. And its future? Well, we will just see who gets the golden ticket!