NEW BRITAIN - Local holiday enthusiasts gathered Sunday night to watch a movie filmed in their own community.
Lifetime’s “A Very Merry Toy Store” premiered with Amato’s Toy and Hobby at 283 Main St. as its main backdrop. Store owners Steve and Sheri Amato sat down to watch the film with over 150 family members and friends, many of whom had been on-screen extras.
The story focuses on rival toy store owners Connie Forrester and Will DiNova, played by Melissa Joan Hart and Mario Lopez. When big-box store Roy’s Toys threatens to close their family businesses down, the two come together during the busy Christmas season.
Sheri Amato said her family’s toy store has never faced such a threat, thankfully.
“We don’t really compare ourselves with big box stores like Toys ‘R’ Us,” she explained. “We are a specialty toy store.”
An extra in the movie, Sheri played Donna, who owns a dress shop. In one scene, the female lead makes an example of her as another small business owner battling corporate giants.
New Britain is no stranger to this kind of neighborly camaraderie, Sheri pointed out.
“Even though it’s a big city, New Britain is a tight community. We’re all there for each other when there’s anything going on.”
Sunday’s premiere party - a sold-out event - was a prime example.
“I never dreamed it would be this big of an event but I’m glad it is, thanks to our family and our customers,” Sheri added.
The party took place in a building on East Street that also was Mayor Erin Stewart’s campaign headquarters. The mayor was an extra in the movie.
The group was anxious to see Amato’s on screen, along with other city landmarks: Miss Washington Diner and City Hall. Frontage on Main Street in Bristol was also used during filming, including the former Barley Vine, the Bristol Public Library and The Shaffer Co.
Nancy Arboscello shook with glee when she hugged the Amatos Sunday.
“It’s so exciting,” she whispered to her friends.
Marion Fischbeim, another family friend, handed out free popcorn to guests.
“It’s just fun,” she said. “This is our community. We support each other.”
Admission proceeds go to the Salvation Army in New Britain. The Amatos matched the donation, which will provide toys and gifts to city families with limited means.
“It’s great for New Britain,” Steve Amato said of the movie.
The holiday season is prime time for mom-and-pop stores like his.
“The rest of the year, you just try to cover the bills, but when you make it is during Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Steve said. “This is our season.”
After inheriting the store five years ago from his parents, its original owners, Steve felt obligated to keep it thriving.
“I grew up running the store,” he said. “It’s all I ever knew.”
Amato’s enjoyed a little taste of fame ahead of Sunday’s television premiere. A commercial advertised it as the movie’s location.
“It hasn’t been like Mystic Pizza, where the movie was named after the business, and I didn’t expect it to be,” Steve added. “Still, every place I go, people ask me about it.”
Show times for “A Very Merry Toy Store” are listed on MyLifetime.com. According to the website, the movie will be on TV again on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Dec. 6, at midnight.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.