There was no in-person Toy Fair in New York City this February – a casualty, like so many other shows over the past year, of COVID. But if there had been one, it would have been strange nonetheless, as it would have lacked the familiar presence at the Odyssey Toys booth of CEO Sal Irigoyen, who passed away at 66 on Jan. 14 in Miami. His passing came after a years-long battle with aggressive illness – but through many recent annual Toy Fairs, seeing and speaking with Sal, you would never have known it.
“He put up a show. He always was the cheery, fun Sal at the toy fairs, because that’s what toys are all about,” recalls his son, Senior VP of Sales Michael Irigoyen.
Sal was born in Havana, Cuba and left there with his parents and family at a young age in the ’60s, migrating with them to Cleveland – selected as their destination because “the ticketing agent told them it was the next flight out,” Michael says. Once there, a church pastor named Farmer and his family took them under his wing, helping his parents find jobs, and the family, a place to live. Sal never forgot that, and kept close ties with the Farmers throughout his life.
He went on to attend and graduate from Ohio State University, receiving a degree in electrical engineering. Then, he moved to Miami, got a job in retail, and “spent the next 40 years in retail in one shape or the other – a buyer, a rep, a manufacturer… he did everything under the sun,” Michael relates. He variously handled South American and Southeastern U.S. sales for the DJ products company Gemini for many years, clocked some time on the distribution side after that, and then focused on Odyssey, which has been in business for the last 20 years.
“He was a born salesperson,” Michael relates, “and was always the center of the room, always able to charm everyone.” Even in the last few months of his life, despite COVID restrictions, “the common thread was always that he was there, and everyone knew it,” Michael says. “Everyone gravitated to him. He was a people magnet – for fun, for family. He knew all the NATM people, all the Toy Fair people, all the CES people.”
He was also “a musician, through and through – a guitarist and a singer,” Michael tells us. That avocation manifested through his involvement in the ’70s in a Cleveland band called the Doo Wops; the group resurfaced nine years ago and drew a sold-out following of several thousand fans for a concert held in the city’s Cain Park that turned into an annual event. “Despite running a big toy company,” he says, “he always found the time to practice with them.”
Michael continues: “The loves of his life were his wife (Susy, who passed in 2018) and kids (Jonathan, Michael, Natalie and Steven), his love for music, and his love for his company – Odyssey Toys. He started this company and made a place for all four kids in it. And he has left it for his children to continue to grow. He would call it his legacy. It gave him a sense of pride, joy and accomplishment.”