‘You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch’

Holiday Express wants toy retailer to stop using its name


The Grinch makes an appearance at the 2008 Holiday Express Concert in Red Bank. The Grinch makes an appearance at the 2008 Holiday Express Concert in Red Bank. TINTON FALLS — While he stopped short of saying so, Tim McLoone thinks a certain toy retailer is acting like that holiday humbug, the Grinch.

“The holiday season is the most important fundraising time period for our organization. Every penny counts for us, and if even one person thinks they are supporting Holiday Express by shopping at a Toys ‘R’ Us Holiday Express store, that lost money takes away from us being able to fulfill our mission,” said McLoone, founder and president of the nonprofit charity Holiday Express.

McLoone held a press conference at the Holiday Express warehouse on Shrewsbury Avenue on Nov. 10, the 16th anniversary of the founding of the traveling goodwill troupe, to make it clear that his organization has no affiliation with the new Toys “R” Us Holiday Express stores.

In September, Toys “R” Us announced that it would open hundreds of temporary stores for the holiday season using the name Toys “R” Us Holiday Express. These temporary stores are open only during the holiday season, the same period during which Holiday Express is most active.

Established in 1995, Holiday Express conveyed its concern during the conference that the public may wrongly think they are supporting the charitable mission of Holiday Express by shopping at Toys “R” Us Holiday Express stores.

The charity fears that this potential confusionwill jeopardize the financial support that it receives from individual donors and organizations and on which Holiday Express relies.

Amy Broza, who has been a vocalist and board member with Holiday Express for the past 15 years, spoke at the press conference and described how she discovered the Toys “R” Us Holiday Express stores.

Broza said she was at the Jersey Shore PremiumOutlets in Tinton Falls earlier this fall and abruptly stopped in front of the Toys “R” Us Holiday Express store.

“I was confused and worried that it would impact our mission to help the people. I had a visceral reaction. I felt it in my gut,” Broza said.

“We’ve spent 16 years building the brand. It’s disingenuous for them to think that Holiday Express isn’t hurt by this. It’s inaccurate on their part. We want to let the public know that it is not us.

“We feel extremely passionate about this and making sure there’s no confusion about what we do,” McLoone said.

McLoone explained that when he first read about the Toys “R” Us venture in September, he immediately began trying to contact the retail toy giant’s chief executive officer.

Those efforts were initially ignored, and what he got back was a response from the company’s legal department stating that the shared name “is unlikely to cause any confusion,” he said. McLoone asked for a meeting, to no avail.

“Toys ‘R’ Us did, however, affirmatively inform us that Toys ‘R’ Us would not stop using the Holiday Express name.

“We just want them to stop using the name. They’re all over, they’re a giant, and we’re of little consequence to them,” McLoone added.

According to McLoone, four Toys “R” Us Holiday Express stores exist within 25 miles of the Tinton Falls headquarters.

“People have been calling us thinking we’re the store. There definitely is confusion.

“We’re not angry, we’re upset that we’ve been dismissed. It’s like David versus Goliath,” McLoone said.

The nonprofit, all-volunteer organization founded in 1993 by McLoone, of Little Silver, has been delivering music, food, gifts, financial support and friendship to the physically and mentally disabled, the homeless, those living with AIDS and others in need during the holiday season for the past 17 years.

McLoone, a Harvard graduate, accomplished musician, athlete and business owner, founded Holiday Express with the help of his friends in the music industry.

“I wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of those in need,” he said simply.

McLoone believes that the shared name will cause shoppers who may frequent Toys “R” Us Holiday Express to feel that they’re benefiting the nonprofit organization by making a purchase.

He also worries about an opposite effect, that those who would have previously supported his organization may stop doing so because of a perceived affiliation with the toy store retail giant.

“We play all over, and we’re not invisible. It’s not disingenuous for people to say, ‘I guess Holiday Express doesn’t need my money because they’ve partnered with Toys ‘R’ Us,’ or for people to think ‘I’m helping Holiday Express out by shopping here,’ ” McLoone said. Legal remedies do exist, as McLoone explained that he has informed the state Attorney General’s Office of the conflict, but hasn’t heard back yet.

“It’s troubling and distressing. I feel helpless, and I don’t want it to hurt those whom we serve,” Broza said.

McLoone said that an intellectual property attorney is a six-figure expense, and the organization might not even win such a legal battle.

“Toys ‘R’ Us has unlimited resources, and even $10,000 would hurt our mission,” said McLoone.

Broza said that asking for the kind of time and money to be donated for what would be a lengthy legal battle is too much to ask.

“It’s a lot to ask for pro bono. Toys ‘R’Us doesn’t have to be reactive,” Broza said.

“We have a great support system. As Tim has said, $10,000 is a ton of money for us. We really do rely on the kindness of others,” she added.

McLoone said that Toy’s “R” Us recently filed for trademark protection. He said that he had never thought to do it for his own organization, because he couldn’t imagine anyone else using the name.

“I’ve been told that it’s not first use, it’s first filing, and we filed 16 years ago versus Toys “R” Us, which filed 16 weeks ago,” McLoone said.

McLoone hopes that Toys “R” Us will stop using the shared name for the next holiday season.

“This will happen every year; we’d have to put up with this indefinitely,” McLoone said.

Holiday Express volunteers pack thousands of gift bags, prepare food, don elf and Santa costumes, tune up their instruments and hit the road traveling primarily throughout the tri-state area from the week of Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, bringing approximately 50 interactive parties to people who might otherwise be overlooked during the holiday season.

“A big problem that disadvantaged people face is lack of transportation. We go to them. We try and find locations that don’t get attention otherwise. It’s a lot of work,” McLoone said.

Holiday Express receives no state funding. All the money, food and gift-bag items are donated or purchased at a discounted rate.

In 2008, Holiday Express held 53 events in 31 days and served 10,000 meals, 1,300 volunteers donated 6,500 hours of their time, 5,000 gift bags were packed at a value of $450,000, 2,000 miles were traveled to get to event locations, and 850 people volunteered their time in the warehouse to prepare for the events.