All of my kids first teddy bears came from The Basic Brown Bear Factory in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill. It was a wonderful old place with a great hands on spirit. The founders, Eric and Merrilee Woods, bought a US Navy surplus kapok stuffing machine meant for life vests. It ran on compressed air and shot lightweight fibers like kapok or bear stuffing through a nozzle that could fill up limp fabric quickly. It was a memorable steampunky kind of experience.
Today, I tried finding the Basic Bear Factory online and found references to 2801 Leavenworth, down by Fisherman’s Wharf. I assumed that they relocated from Potrero, but we couldn’t find them. 2801 Leavenworth is a bar called Dirty Martini. Basic Bear’s phone wasn’t answering, and their URL returned a 404. I guess they’ve been run out of business…and that’s a damn shame. Wikipedia says:
According to legal filings, Maxine Clark approached Basic Brown Bear Factory in 1996 to negotiate a buyout offer. Eric and Merrilee Woods were interested in selling the business to Clark to expand it nationally, with the agreement that the Woods would remain as officers. The Woods assert that Clark was exposed to the inner workings of the business and signed a confidentiality agreement. She then gave a low-ball offer, which the Woods rejected, resulting in Clark quickly departing to organize Build-A-Bear Workshop with their trade secrets.
Perhaps their lawyer’s meters are still running, I don’t know. I do know that I’d rather take my kids to a funky old building on Potrero Hill than get in line at the mall for the “Build a Bear Workshop.” It’s also a shame to see creative founders edged out. It happens all too often. That said…Build a Bear has a social network for kids called Buildabearville.com. That’s fodder for my next post.