A visit to Build-A-Bear is always a special occasion and for my two children, Kit and Natasha, the excitement had been brewing for several weeks. So come the morning of our planned outing, they could barely contain themselves. As an extra special treat, they had both been allowed to choose a friend to take along, too, and when the doorbell went, announcing the arrival of first Seth and then Ariella, the whoops of delight could be heard halfway down the street.
After a bus journey filled with animated chatter about what bear they would choose and which outfit would adorn it, we arrived at the Build-A-Bear Workshop in Covent Garden, where we were greeted by our Bear Builder for the day, a lovely young lady called Eysha. She quickly put the children at ease, asking their names and whether this was their first visit, before taking them over to the display of bear skins waiting to be transformed into the soft toy of their dreams. At this point, I realised that my role was strictly one of observer, watching the look of pure wonderment and delight on their little faces as they made their selection.
After 10 minutes, and several changes of mind, the children finally decided on their new furry friends and were then guided by the ever-patient Eysha to the next stage of the proceedings, choosing a sound to accompany their bear. Just why my daughter chose a lion’s roar for her Deep Blue Sea Bear, I will never know, but that’s what makes Build-A-Bear such fun – your child’s imagination can just run riot.
Next on the production line was the Stuff Me station, where the children lined up to help stuff their bear, giving it the mandatory hug test, to make sure it felt perfect for snuggling up close. Before the bear could be stitched up however, a red satin heart was warmed in each child’s hand and a wish was made, with the heart then placed with great ceremony inside their bears.
A quick brush and fluff of fur and it was on to the clothing section, where cute little costumes adorned the walls, all perfectly designed and sized to fit the bears. Kit immediately chose a smart dinner suit, having declared his bear the ursine equivalent of James Bond, while Natasha opted for a sporty look for hers, thus adding to its somewhat confused identity. Seth’s meanwhile was transformed into a palace guard, complete with bearskin hat, while Ariella carefully compiled a look so street cred, her bear was immediately deemed the coolest.
Now there was just one thing left to do, and that was to name the bears, with each child choosing such highly original monikers, they’d forgotten them by the time we finally emerged from the shop. Thankfully, however, their bear’s birth certificate had been placed in the distinctive Build-A-Bear carrying cases that they used to transport their precious cargo home.
Once home, the children accorded their Build-A-Bears pride of place on their beds, and more than a month later, their status as ‘the best toy ever’ remains undisputed.
Check out our interview with Chief Bear Maxine Clark, to find out how Build-A-Bear all started.