Toy safety scare is a boon to Minnesota toymakersby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Some Minnesota toymakers say business is booming this holiday season thanks in large part to concerns about the safety of imported toys. The number of toy recalls have many shoppers willing to pay more for gifts made in this country. And the people who sell U.S.-made toys hope the trend will continue.
St. Paul, Minn. — Heather Miller, her one-year-old son Evan and three-year-old daughter Acacia are zooming toy cars across the wood floor at Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care in St.Paul.
The cars and trucks divide their time between the floor and Evan's mouth, Heather says. All of the recent toy safety recalls have alarmed her.
"I'm trying hard not to get anything from China now which is very hard to do but, you can do it here." The recalls have forever changed the way she'll buy toys.
"Absolutely. I never even thought about it before and now it's all I think about especially with Christmas and both their birthdays. I'm worried about what they're going to get. I'm definitely concerned about it."
Peapods owner Millie Adelsheim says she's seeing a lot of new customers lately.
"Business is booming. Last Saturday was our busiest day we've ever had and that's only the middle of November and things will just keep getting busier through Christmas obviously."
It's clear many of the people buying her toys are at her store because they're worried about safety, Adelsheim says. Although she does carry some Chinese imports, she has plenty of other options and it's those items shoppers are snatching-up, she says.
"The U.S.-made products are really just soaring this year. We've got a line of little pine cars, trucks and airplanes. I think they retail for about $5 and those are just flying out the door by the hundred. Uncle Goose alphabet blocks, which are made in Michigan, have been doing really well. The Beka unit blocks, which are made here in St. Paul, are also doing really well."
A couple of miles from the toy store, Beka Incorporated's President and co-owner Jamie Seeley Kreisman is taking a break from assembling wooden children's looms to talk about about business this year.
"This is actually going to Comstock, Texas -- this is a train table, this is an easel going to Mountain View, California. This is another easel going to Boulder, Colorado," he says, standing in front of a stack of boxes that will soon leave the shop for customers all over the country.
"As soon as I started reading about the toy recalls, what I started doing is ordering raw materials to make sure that we have plenty of material on-hand."
It's a good thing Kreisman stocked up on supplies.
"We're seeing a huge spike in sales. People say what does it mean to your business? And we don't know yet because we don't know how long-lasting this impact will be but the current recalls certainly have people afraid to buy imported products -- Chinese products in particular."
On the other side of the Twin Cities in the lower level of a St. Louis Park home Debbie Klaers sews the finishing touches into a gigantic, black pirate hat.
Klaers is one of a half dozen employees of a small business called Fairy Finery. For the past nine years they've been making durable dress-up clothes, including fairy princess gowns.
"We also have knights, Robinhood, you could be the Sheriff of Nottingham, you could be a king, it could be a cloak of invisibility. Many, many, things," says Susan Berns owns the Fairy Finery.
"I would say business is up over 50 percent in the last two, three months," Berns says.
She attributes her increased sales to concern about the safety of toys from China. But she's quick to make the point that companies, not countries, make toys. She predicts the newfound interest in toy safety will give way to broader consumer scrutiny of retailers.
"I would not call if a fluke at all. I think it's an inevitability and having this mass level of consumerism and consumption of all products but especially for children, especially at this time of year. At some point it's got to impact because you can't create the volume of products that are being pushed at us as consumers without their being some risk of them not being made in a way that's safe."
Back at the natural toy store, Peapods, co-owner Millie Adelsheim says it's not uncommon for her to see new customers balk at the prices she charges for toys she knows are safe. Still, she says she's having a hard time keeping up with the demand. She's not sure this is a long-term trend.
"I really don't know if it's just a short-lived hysteria. (If) it's going to last through this Christmas season and people will forget about it, or if it's actually going to make some meaningful changes in our consumer behavior in this culture; if people are going to start paying more attention how and where things are made, to buying things that are going to be a little better quality, a little more long lasting, a little more expensive. People want things cheap -- we're all so tempted by the cheap, cheap, cheap."
- Morning Edition, 11/23/2007, 8:25 a.m.