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Mon, Nov 19, 2007 - Page 10 News List

FEATURE: Wary customers turn to US-made toys


With Christmas fast approaching, Don Edwards is worried about the record number of recalls of Chinese-made toys in the US, and not because he has bought tainted goods for his grandchildren.

Edwards is concerned he won't be able to meet a surge in demand for the hand-crafted, wooden toys he makes in a converted barn in central New York state.

"Every time the phone rings I think: `Oh my goodness, I've only got a dozen of that type of truck on the shelves and it's six weeks to Christmas,'" the retired 76-year-old professor said.

"I'm worried because I'd hate to have to say to some grandma: `I'm sorry, I don't have any more of that.' And I know that is going to happen this year," he said.

Demand for the toys made by Edwards with the help of only one other craftsman, who applies the non-toxic finishes to the toys, has been spurred by the recalls of millions of toys this year, many of them imported from China.

"Since the publicity surrounding toys made in China, there has been a dramatic surge in hits on my Web site," he said.

According to the Consumers Union, more than 20 million toys have been recalled because of lead and other hazards this year so far.

"Among those aware of the recalls, 36 percent say they will be buying fewer toys this holiday season, and 70 percent say they will be checking product labels," the consumer watchdog said.

Pamela Gilbert, a former executive director of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, told lawmakers at a hearing on toy safety this week that "industry analysts say only about 10 percent of toys sold here are actually made in the USA."

Almost all toys recalled in the past year in the US were Chinese-made, Gilbert said.

At the Guillow model airplane company, sales of US-made balsa wood scale model airplanes and gliders have increased this year, vice president Tom Barker said.

"We've had more orders from US toy shops, and our international sales have picked up too, especially to the UK," he said.

The internationally recognized Little Tikes company has a special section on its Web site, telling prospective buyers which of its toys are made in the US.

"Our consumers have asked to very clearly know which products are made here in the USA and which are not," vice president Tom Prichard said.

Little Tikes produces around two-thirds of its toys in the US, he said.

"We've seen a lot more interest in the made in USA products," Prichard said.

With many items that carry the made in USA label costing more than imported goods, buying US goods goes against the trend of belt-tightening this Christmas.

But Edwards' toys are selling better than ever before in his nine years in the woodworking business, despite the bigger price tag on his toys.

"If you measure a US$160 dump truck which is precision-made of white pine with three coats of water-based -- as opposed to petroleum-based -- finish against the same thing made in plastic coming out of China, it is expensive stuff," Edwards said.

"Nevertheless, in the past five days, I have shipped more toys than I normally would at this period -- I'm probably at 130 percent," he said. "This stuff is going to be used by the grandchildren of the kid who's getting it this Christmas, it's so well built."

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