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November 05. 2012 6:44PM

Annalee Dolls designers capture smile of delivery 'Elf' Nick


Nick Coombs, whose Claremont-based business The Elf Shelf has won the hearts of residents in the Upper Valley region, visits Annalee Dolls Inc. in Meredith in October and pets a large reindeer doll. (COURTESY)
CLAREMONT - Annalee Dolls Inc. is known for its line of holiday elf dolls and is a business rooted in the magic a smile can hold, said CEO Dave Pelletier.

So when he read a New Hampshire Union Leader article Aug. 5 about Claremont delivery "Elf" Nicholas "Nick" Coombs and the effect his smile has on people through the customized gift basket business the special needs teen and his mother started, Pelletier reached out and donated 70 Annalee elf dolls to their Claremont-based business.

He also offered to create prototype dolls using Nick as a model.

On Friday Janette Coombs got her first look at the prototype dolls.

"My first reaction when I opened my email from Dave Pelletier at Annalee was emotional. When I saw the Nick Annalee doll I was overcome by emotion. They captured his magic and I couldn't believe this was really happening," she said.

One doll holds a green balloon; the other, a basketball. Both capture his smile.

The doll holding the basketball has a strong emotional connection for Janette Coombs, as it recalls the day she was called to his school but was not told what was going on.

"I instantly remembered the day I was called to Bluff Elementary School to come down and witness a miracle. Nick was 8 1/2 at this time, and as I walked through the halls and saw the teachers standing out of the classrooms all watching me, I started to wonder what was going on. Nick was in the gym having his daily physical therapy so I headed down the hall and turned the corner and I saw Nick walking holding a basketball. It was like witnessing a miracle as we were not sure if he was ever going to be able to walk."

The Elf Shelf was started by Janette Coombs this spring after Nick aged out of state-funded life skills classes at Stevens High School. It was also a way for her to create meaningful work for her son, she said.

The 75-year-old doll making company was started as a hobby by Barbara Annalee Davis as a young girl and eventually grew into a family business with her motto, "If you smile, someone else has got to smile back."

Pelletier said he instantly connected with the Coombs story and was struck by Janette Coombs commitment to Nick.

"Janette had talked about his smiles and their impact when he delivers to people, and our tagline is 'The magic is in the smile,'" Pelletier said.

The elf business, though, does not make a profit right now, mostly because it is not large enough to buy items for the baskets wholesale. And every basket is custom made to order to fit the personality of the receiver.

In an effort to help, Pelletier donated 70 elf dolls to The Elf Shelf to include in the baskets. He also said he plans to reach out to other craft businesses he has contacts with that could work with Coombs to give her wholesale prices.

In October, Nick, his mother and his aunt, Suzanne Hawley of New Boston, traveled to Meredith to visit Annalee Dolls.

"We talked a little bit about how we could help out into the future," Pelletier said, adding he also experienced a good dose of the joy that Nick gives out to the people that are around him.

"To say it was special doesn't give it enough credit," he said.

And Nick's mom is also part of the magic, Pelletier said, "She doesn't give herself enough credit. There such a bond between them and enthusiasm between them."

With the goal of creating prototypes of elf dolls made into the likeness of Nick, Annalee designers also met with Nick at the company.

"I've lived with the Annalee name since I was a kid and I've been to the other Annalee stores, but this place was really special. A place where the people pour this creative energy into the dolls they create," Hawley said. "I just felt we were in this magical world where this elf was going to be born that looks just like Nick. The fact that they are creating a doll to look just like Nick is just magic."

Making a prototype doll is one thing; mass producing a typical order of 1,200 dolls would be too expensive, Janette Coombs and Pelletier said.

But both hope the dolls will go into production at some point. For now the four prototypes made by Annalee would be used for advertising purposes, she said.

The Elf Shelf can be reached at 542-3956.

mpierce@newstote.com

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