12 Facts About Build-A-Bear

Adam Bettcher, Getty Images for Build-A-Bear
Adam Bettcher, Getty Images for Build-A-Bear

Founded in 1997, Build-A-Bear Workshop may be the only franchise where you’re encouraged to tell employees to stuff it. The company specializes in customized teddy bears, offering options on everything from eyewear to scents. With more than 400 stores worldwide and 160 million bears sold, it’s a good time to be in the business of cuddles. Check out 12 facts about their bears, the infamous stuffing machine, and how Sean Penn dressed his teddy.

1. Build-A-Bear started with Beanie Babies.

Customers are greeted by employees at the Build-A-Bear Workshop in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota in September 2015
Adam Bettcher, Getty Images for Build-A-Bear

Former Payless Shoe Source president Maxine Clark was shopping with her friend's 10-year-old daughter Katie, when they decided to search for Beanie Babies. Though it was the mid-1990s and Beanie Mania was in full bloom, the tiny collectibles were nowhere in sight. Plucky Katie was undeterred and observed that they would be easy to make. Clark was struck by the idea—a store where customers could make their own stuffed teddy—and opened the first Build-A-Bear storefront just nine months later.

2. The Build-A-Bear concept was often imitated but never successfully duplicated.

Build-A-Bear dominated the retail market (the chain pulled in about $50 million in operating profit in 2003), but the success wasn't all positive. Clark had to contend with both copycats and suggestions that she didn’t get the idea from Katie. According to Forbes, the co-owner of the Basic Brown Bear Factory sued Clark for copyright infringement and trade secret misappropriation in 1999, asserting that she had seen his store next to a Minneapolis-area Payless in 1995 and later made an offer to buy him out. Clark told the Chicago Tribune that she proposed a purchase but never did anything illegal. The two settled out of court (confidentially) in 2001. The Tribune also reported that Build-A-Bear sent threatening letters to another plush-build chain, Friends 2B Made, for trademark infringement and for possibly creating consumer confusion.

3. Build-A-Bear executives are known as "the Bears."


Getty Images

The corporate offices of Build-A-Bear are never in danger of running low on bear puns. Their St. Louis offices are known as “bearquarters,” all executive staff are officially listed with titles like chief executive bear, chief human resource bear, and chief operations bear. Only chief financial officer Voin Todorovic is credited without a furry designation. Guy doesn’t seem like much fun.

4. The Build-A-Bear children's advisory board is made up of actual children.

While many youth-oriented retail businesses conduct market research, Build-A-Bear went a step further by enlisting up to 20 children aged 6 to 14 to populate their Cub Advisory Board. The kids critique bear clothes and advertising strategies and helped inform the store’s 2015 redesign. In 2002, Clark said stores “don’t do anything without getting their input.” The company still keeps in contact with advisors who have grown out of the role and says it values their “pawsome” feedback.

5. The Build-A-Bear boxes were inspired by Happy Meals.


In her 2006 autobiography, inevitably titled The Bear Necessities of Business, Clark described how she stumbled upon the distinctive take-home carton that every Build-A-Bear is transported in. “I’ve always liked how McDonald’s packages its Happy Meal,” she wrote, “complete with hamburger, fries, drink, and fun toy—into one cleverly-designed box.” While the bears do not come with fries, Clark was able to wholesale the cartons (dubbed Cub Condos) more cheaply than paper bags would have cost her. They also help advertise the brand when children are seen toting them around in malls.

6. At Build-A-Bear, you can arm your bears.

Thanks in large part to a licensing deal to carry Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Build-A-Bear offers an array of weaponry that can be bought regardless of your particular animal’s pacifism. Nunchucks, katanas, and sais are all offered. Bears can even be fitted for their own Hulk Hands.

7. The Build-A-Bear "Stuffer" is a 7-foot-tall behemoth.

The Stuffer at the Build-A-Bear Workshop at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota is pictured in September 2015
Adam Bettcher, Getty Images for Build-A-Bear

Previously tucked away in the back of stores, the giant contraption that forces polyester stuffing into newborn bears has been promoted: Build-A-Bear unveiled a store redesign in September 2015 to attract more foot traffic with a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience that features a 7-foot-tall filling machine. When the company originally opened its first stores, it had to modify a pillow-stuffing machine.

8. Build-A-Bear made a surrogate mother for a real monkey.

After hearing that a DeBrazza’s monkey in a Kent, England zoo was too ill to care for her newborn offspring, Build-A-Bear’s UK offices donated a stuffed monkey that had a “beating” electronic heart inside of it. The plush was intended to replicate how a baby monkey can feel its mother’s heartbeat.

9. Sean Penn designed a Build-A-Bear teddy.


Getty Images

In November 2014, Operation Bobbi Bear—a charitable organization focused on child welfare—invited a number of celebrities to customize their own Build-A-Bears for an auction fundraiser. Janet Jackson, President Bill Clinton, and Sir Elton John were among those who accepted the offer. But Sean Penn’s was the most terrifying: The bear has been heavily tattooed and appears unapproachable.

10. The Build-A-Bear video on global warming terrified kids.

Eager to increase activity on social media, Build-A-Bear produced and distributed a series of videos in 2009 that depicted Santa Claus fretting about global warming. One polar bear tells him that at the rate the ice is melting, “the North Pole will be gone by Christmas.” Naturally, some kids were put off by the idea of Christmas being canceled. When the company was criticized for introducing a heavy topic to their young demographic and not remaining objective, they agreed to remove the videos.

11. Build-A-Bear inadvertently sells pet clothing.

A Build-A-Bear Workshop display is seen at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota in September 2015
Adam Bettcher, Getty Images for Build-A-Bear

With an array of fashionable apparel in pet-friendly sizes, it’s little wonder some animal lovers stop into Build-A-Bear to do some non-plush shopping. According to Forbes, the franchise has seen an increase in adults who stop in to buy clothing exclusively for their dogs. The company doesn’t endorse the practice, but says it may consider offering pet threads in the future.

12. The Build-A-Bear Pay Your Age promotion is now tear-proof.

Recent years have seen Build-A-Bear come under fire for running a Pay Your Age promotion that offered discounted bears according to a child's age. If they're 6 years old, their stuffed friend is only $6. Unfortunately, demand was so high that lines were long and many kids were left empty-handed and sobbing. In 2019, the company switched to a lottery system, offering reward program members the opportunity to win a ticket redeemable for the promotion. The company also released a special $6.50 pre-stuffed bear through a partnership with Walmart that was made available in most Walmart locations.

Additional Sources:
The Bear Necessities of Business: Building a Company with Heart.

5 Weird American Cemetery Legends

iStock/grandriver
iStock/grandriver

These strange, spooky cemetery tales of vampires, ghosts, and bloody headstones will keep you up at night. (If you're not too scared, add them to your next cemetery road trip, and keep this guide of common cemetery symbols handy for when you visit.)

1. The Vampire of Lafayette Cemetery

Perhaps it's not surprising that a grave with "born in Transylvania" etched on it would invite vampire comparisons. Local legends say that a tree growing over this grave in Lafayette, Colorado, sprung from the stake that killed the vampire inside, and that the red rosebushes nearby are his bloody fingernails. There are also reports of a tall, slender man in a dark coat with black hair and long nails who sometimes sits on the tombstone. It's not clear what the man who bought the plot—Fodor Glava, a miner who died in 1918—would have thought of all these stories, especially since he might not have actually been buried there.

2. The Green Glow of Forest Park Cemetery

The abandoned Forest Park Cemetery (also known as Pinewoods Cemetery) near Troy, New York, is known for several urban legends. One of the strangest concerns local taxi drivers, who say they pick up fares nearby asking to go home, only to have the passenger mysteriously vanish when they drive by the cemetery. Others tell of a decapitated angel statue that bleeds from its neck—although the effect may be attributed to a certain kind of moss. But one of the eeriest parts of the grounds is a dilapidated mausoleum said to be home to a green, glowing light often seen right where the coffins used to be located.

3. The New Orleans Tomb That Grants Wishes

Famed "Voodoo Queen" Marie Laveau is buried in arguably the oldest and most famous cemetery in New Orleans, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. (Or said to be, anyway—some dispute surrounds her actual burial spot.) For years, visitors hoping to earn Marie's supernatural assistance would mark three large Xs on her mausoleum; some also knocked three times on her crypt. However, a 2014 restoration of her tomb removed the Xs, and there's a substantial fine now in place for anyone who dares write on her tomb.

4. Pennsylvania's Bleeding Headstone

The Union Cemetery in Millheim has one of the nation's weirder headstones: It's said to bleed. The grave belongs to 19th-century local William (or Daniel) Musser, whose descendants tried to replace the tombstone repeatedly, but the blood (or something that looked like blood) just kept coming back—until they added an iron plate on top.

5. Smiley's Ghost in Garland, Texas

A single plot in the Mills Cemetery is home to five members of the Smiley family, who all died on the same day. Rumor has it that if you lie down on the grave at midnight (especially on Halloween), you'll find it very difficult to rise back up, as the ghost of old man Smiley tries to pull you down, hoping to add one more member to the family's eternal resting place.

8 Fun Facts About Muppet Babies

The Jim Henson Company
The Jim Henson Company

Before prequels were a thing, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies imagined a world in which the felt-covered characters of Henson’s Muppets franchise—Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, and Fozzie Bear among them—met up as children in a nursery. Left to their own devices, the animated cast led a rich fantasy life while in diapers. For more on this 1984-1991 show, including why it’s so hard to find anywhere except YouTube, keep reading.

1. Frank Oz didn’t really want Muppet Babies.

The idea to infantilize the Muppets came from Michael Frith, a longtime collaborator of Jim Henson’s, in the early 1980s. Frith believed that regressing the characters could allow them to impart moral or educational messages to children already familiar with them. But Frank Oz, a Muppets performer (Miss Piggy) and film director, argued that the Muppets needed to maintain their subversive edge. It was Henson who found a compromise, suggesting that younger versions of the characters appear in a dream sequence for 1984’s feature film The Muppets Take Manhattan. The response to the scene was overwhelmingly positive, and Henson soon teamed with Marvel Productions and CBS for an animated series that began airing in September 1984.

2. Skeeter was the result of a gender imbalance on Muppet Babies.

Most of the principal Muppet Babies cast was made up of recognizable characters, including Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Rowlf, Gonzo, Animal, Bunsen, and Scooter. But Frith, Henson, and producers Bob Richardson and Hank Saroyan decided that the babies were skewing a little too male. Aside from Piggy and their caretaker, Nanny, there were no female characters. To balance the scales, they introduced Skeeter, Scooter’s twin sister, a brainy problem-solver.

Skeeter has made only fleeting and sporadic appearances in the Muppet franchise since, leading to speculation she might be caught up in rights issues between CBS and the Jim Henson Company, which was purchased by Disney in 2004. Fortunately, the somewhat murky situation appears to be at least partially resolved: It was recently reported Skeeter will resurface in the new computer-animated iteration of Muppet Babies, which is currently airing its second season on Disney Junior and has been renewed for a third season.

3. One of the major creative forces behind Muppet Babies was Moe Howard’s grandson.

In 1985, Muppet Babies writer Jeffrey Scott received a Humanitas Prize from the Human Family Educational and Cultural Institute for an episode of the series which the Institute declared did the best job of any kid’s show that year to “enrich the viewing public.” The episode centered on the group fearing one of them might be sent away. The prolific Scott actually wrote all 13 episodes of the first season. His father, Norman Maurer, worked at Hanna-Barbera Productions and got Scott’s foot in the door. His grandfather was Moe Howard, founder and head Stooge of The Three Stooges fame.

4. The Muppet Babies live-action segments were a result of budgetary constraints.

A hallmark of Muppet Babies is when the cast finds themselves thrust into scenes from famous films, a Walter Mitty-esque bit of fantasy fulfillment that blends live-action sequences with animation. According to Frith, devoting a portion of each episode to clips wasn’t entirely a creative choice. By inserting clips, producers could save money on animation. It was also easy for Henson to secure the rights to popular films like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark because he was friends with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. While some believe those clips are the reason the show isn’t available to stream—sifting through the legal entanglement of reairing the segments might prove costly—that’s never been confirmed.

5. Muppet Babies never explained what the Muppets were doing in that nursery.

Given time to reflect, it seems odd that the Muppet cast would find themselves in a nursery without being supervised by their own parents. Speaking with the Detroit Free Press in 1987, Michael Frith said that the situation was purposely left vague. “I really appreciate the fact that they don’t [ask],” Frith said of his kid viewers. “Is this a day care center? Is this a foster child home? The more we talked about it, the more we felt it should just exist. The kids accept it.”

6. The voice recording sessions of Muppet Babies included copious farting.

Speaking with CNN in 2011, actor Dave Coulier (Full House) recalled that recording sessions for Muppet Babies sometimes involved flatulence. Coulier, who portrayed Animal and Bunsen, among others, said that “lots of fart humor” punctuated the recording studio. “In one scene, Fozzie [played by Greg Berg] and Animal had to climb a ladder,” he said. “As Animal was pushing Fozzie up the ladder, they were making [grunting] sounds. In mid-scene, Greg Berg farted. I looked at [actor] Frank Welker and we couldn’t contain ourselves. Uncontrollable laughter ensued. I was literally on the floor of the studio laughing.”

7. There was an offshoot of Muppet Babies called Muppet Monsters—and it never aired in full.

Following the success of Muppet Babies, CBS and Jim Henson decided to expand on the Muppets' potential as Saturday morning stars by creating a 90-minute block in 1985 titled Muppets, Babies, and Monsters. (Muppet Babies often aired consecutive half-hour installments for an hour total.) In addition to regular Muppet Babies episodes, the program featured another half-hour of Little Muppet Monsters, which featured puppets of new Muppet monster characters named Tug, Molly, and Boo. The three appeared in a framing device that introduced animated segments of adult Muppets. Only three episodes aired out of 15 produced, reportedly due to both Henson and CBS being unhappy with the finished product and Muppet Babies standing strongly on its own. The remaining episodes have yet to see the light of day.

8. Muppet Babies was turned into a live stage show.

To further incite their juvenile audience and monetize their popularity, the Muppet Babies franchise eventually wound up live and on stage. Muppet Babies Live! debuted in 1986 and featured performers in oversized costumes dancing and acting to a prerecorded track. In one skit, the cast appeared in a Snow White homage. In another, Rowlf became Rowlfgang Amagodus Mozart and played the piano. The arena show toured the country. Hank Saroyan, one of the animated show’s producers, wrote the stage show. The performer for Baby Piggy, Elizabeth Figols, also appeared in a live production of Dirty Dancing. The show ran through 1990.

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