Local interest - Yo-yo man

Downtown Chico shopkeeper hosts all things yo-yo

Photo By Tom Angel

If you’ve ever browsed a map of the nation’s offbeat attractions and come across a listing for the world’s largest yo-yo, then you have already discovered one of the things that make Bob Malowney unique. While Malowney features the “world’s largest yo-yo,” a 50-inch-tall, 256-pound Tom Kuhn No Jive 3-in-1Yo-Yo, prominently in his gift store, Bird in Hand, at 320 Broadway in downtown Chico, his passion for all things yo-yo extends beyond simply owning the world’s largest one.

Malowney’s store is also headquarters for the official National Yo-Yo Contest. Malowney says he views Bird in Hand not just as a business, but also as “a vehicle for the interests of my wife and me.”

Those interests lie in creating projects that spread Chico’s name in a positive way and help give the community its personality. “It’s important for a community to have a personality,” Malowney says.

In the last 23 years, Malowney, at first through Bird in Hand and later through different nonprofit organizations, has been behind some of Chico’s best-regarded community traditions. These events draw visitors from all over California and, in the case of the Yo-Yo contest, all over the world.

DUNCAN CHIC <br>The National Yo-Yo Museum, housed at the Bird in Hand gift shop in downtown Chico, displays hundreds of historic string winders.

Photo By Tom Angel

That contest started locally in 1988, and its popularity quickly increased. Now, there is an industry-sanctioned national contest held at the store, with the best players from the country and sometimes the world showing up to compete. “One of the greatest things [about the yo-yo contest],” says Malowney, “is that local kids can just walk down the street and go to a contest at a level that other people had to fly in airplanes and stay in hotels for.”

As mentioned, Bird in Hand is also home to the National Yo-Yo Museum, where one can see everything from yo-yos from the 1920s to the radical new designs of today. The Yo-Yo Museum is the largest of its kind in the world. Admission to the museum is free, and tours are always being given. Malowney believes that communication between generations is sometimes lacking today, and so the Yo-Yo Museum provides an activity that people, no matter what their age, can identify with and enjoy.

The National Yo-Yo Museum is actually only one part of the still-growing Chico Toy Museum, which features classic toys from across the centuries. Many local individuals have placed their treasured classic toys on loan to the museum, allowing the toys to be shared with all who visit the store.

Malowney’s projects don’t stop with the yo-yos, however. Every spring, Malowney works with other community organizations to put on Kite Day, a free event where people can come and simply enjoy the pleasure of flying a kite. “[Kite Day] gives people community pride, and it gives people community cohesiveness,” Malowney says, “It’s an activity that everybody can look forward to and develop a relation with.”

He also emcees the annual polar bear swim at Sycamore Pool in Lower Bidwell Park’s One Mile Recreation Area. The brave take to the water each New Year’s Day at 1 p.m.

For those interested in enjoying one of Bob Malowney’s and the Chico Toy Museum’s many community events, check out www.birdinhand.com, which features an up-to-date calendar. The National Yo-Yo Contest is held on the first Saturday of October every year, while Kite Day falls in early spring.