Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Afternoon at the Teddy Bear Factory

Hi hi Damn Arbor readers. After a fair amount of nagging and passive aggression I have finally been invited to guest blog. So let me tell you about the Chelsea Teddy Bear Company’s factory tour, just up the street in Chelsea, MI.

Pancake the bear settles into his new home

My roommate and I had been itching to go on the teddy factory tour ever since last fall when we toured the Jiffy muffin mix factory (highly recommended) just across the street. When we first walked in, I overwhelmed and delighted. Teddies of all shapes, sizes and colors filled the store and lined the walls, and a particularly welcoming life-size model waited right in the entrance for me to give him a hello hug and high-five. We spent the 20 spare minutes we had allowed ourselves before the start of the tour browsing the teddy ranks in the shop: seeing who could find the softest bear, playing puppets with the stuff-your-own bears, and discussing the pros and cons of dressing up teddy bears in outfits.

At 1pm our tour finally began. Our very kind and surprisingly witty tour guide filled us in on the history of stuffed toys (it all started with an elephant pincushion), teddy bears, and Teddy Roosevelt’s pivotal act of mercy vis-à-vis a baby bear.

Finally, we were ready to enter the factory phase of our tour, and I’m sorry to say that this is where things started to get disappointing. Just above the factory threshold, our tour guide pointed out a map of all the Chelsea Teddy Bear Company’s stores and manufacturing facilities around the world. Even as we were on the brink of exploring a factory right here in Chelsea, USA, we learned that much of the manufacturing took place in Indonesia, Mongolia, and unidentified countries in Africa and South America. Our tour guide gave a sunny description of how each teddy bear travels the world before it makes its way into your arms, but I’m not sure the real story is quite so cheerful.

In any case, we entered the factory and learned that two models of bear are actually made in the Chelsea factory – Pancake and Connor. We were shown examples of sketches and patterns that go into designing new teddy bears, but we didn’t get to actually see the fabric cutting or teddy stuffing machines in use. We also learned that all of the sewing and stuffing is done by just one woman named Judy, but we didn’t get to meet her or see her at work because it was a Saturday and she works Monday-Friday. All in all the factory tour itself was a bit lackluster, and we couldn’t help feeling we’d been lured to what amounted to little more than a glorified gift shop. Their strategy worked though – I bought a Pancake on my way out. And really I count any afternoon spent surrounded by adorable teddy bears as an overall win.

The Chelsea Teddy Bear Company offers free factory tours every non-holiday Saturday at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.


  1. I would love to see an actual teddy bear factory but we only have one left in the UK and don't think they do tours.:0)