Sometimes the little guy wins

Wed, 08/21/2013 - 8:00am

Dear Readers,

This is not a new story, but it is a good one and it has a new ending.

It all began in 1981, when a guy who ran a little store in Boothbay Harbor found himself holding the short end of the stick; and the big end of the stick was held by a giant.

Gimbel & Sons Country Store was sued by the national department store chain of the same name. The New York City institution (they invented the Thanksgiving Day Parade), said to be the largest department store chain in the world, decided their reputation was being hurt because a tiny Boothbay Harbor store dared to use the same name.

Jack Gimbel, the owner, thought it was bunk. He figured it was OK to use his own name on his own store, so he fought back and complained to the press. His tactics worked when the story went national. Even the New York Times wrote this real life David vs. Goliath story.

After a while, the big Gimbel’s store caved in and settled. They ate their own legal fees and the little Boothbay Harbor Gimbel’s store owner agreed to attach a sign to his store proclaiming the little guy was not related to the big guy.

In 1986, after a series of mergers, the big Gimbel’s went out of business. A few years later, after his dad died, Mark Gimbel and his sister Beth found out the rights to the Gimbel’s name were being sold. They bought the big Gimbel’s store trademark for $5,000.

Move forward several years when a Hollywood movie company called upon Gimbel’s of Boothbay. New Line Cinema was getting ready to make a big time movie called “Elf,” starring Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel. The story involved a larger than life elf who was looking for Santa in, you guessed it, Gimbel’s Department Store. It was to be released for the Christmas season 2003.

The lawyers for the Hollywood movie folks called to ask the little Gimbel’s store if they could use the big Gimbel’s name in the movie.

“They (Mark and Beth) told New Line said sure,” said Mark’s wife, Dianne. They were granted the rights to use the name for a $5,000 fee, she said.

Later, at a Las Vegas trade show, Mark and Dianne were cruising the booths and Mark spotted some paper bags for sale. They were the last batch of customer bags from the big Gimbel’s store.

“Mark bought a truck load of them and we used them for years for our customers,” Dianne said. The couple now owns five harbor stores, The Smiling Cow, Gimble & Sons Country Store, The Loft, Gretchen’s Closet and Log Cabin Shoes.

Not long ago, Hollywood called Boothbay Harbor again. Mark said a TV show producer called to ask the little Gimbel’s store if they could use the big Gimbel’s name.

Mark said they were shooting a family comedy for ABC based in New York City in the 1980s. They wanted to stage part of the show in the big Gimbel’s department store.

Once again, Hollywood needed the little Gimbel’s to give permission to use the big Gimbel’s name. Dianne said they were given the OK to use it for a year. And they were charged a licensing fee, she said.

This fall, when you watch the ABC show called “The Goldbergs,” remember the story of the little Boothbay Harbor store that stood up to the lawyers for the largest department store in the world — and won.