Build a Bear (a story of making meaning)

It’s my daughter’s birthday.

Gina is seven and has always had a thing for stuffed animals. She, and her best friend Meg, love to stage melodramas with their toys, giving them names, detailed characteristics and roles to play in an imaginary world of their creation. She and Meg love to dress their animals in different costumes and accessories. Sometimes that seems like the most fun of all for them.

So, for her birthday, I take Gina and Meg to a new “Build a Bear Workshop” that’s opened a few blocks away. My sister said it would be perfect for her. Sort of a store, sort of an arts ‘n’ crafts factory it seemed the ideal place for an energetic, sensitive and creative girl like Gina to express herself.

I walk in and am instantly enchanted by the colors, and the inviting, soft quality of the “store.” I can’t exactly describe it, but I feel like I’m in a fantasy land or, at least, some place different than reality. After moving a few feet into the space, I see that there is a simple structure organizing everyone’s activities. There are stations clearly visible that will guide us in the creation of a custom-made teddy bear.

Step by step, Gina and Meg walk through the “Choose Me” station, where they find the exact bear type they want…

… To the “Hear Me” station, where they choose the sound they want their bear to make when squeezed…

… To the “Stuff Me” area where they control how soft their bear will be by choosing its stuffing…

… To the “Fluff Me” station where the girls blow dry the bear to freshen it…

… To the “Dress Me” arena where they swoon over hundreds of different outfits and finally decide on a few that are “right” for their particular bear…

… and finally to the “Name Me” stations, where Gina writes the story of her bear’s life, with a little help from me.

As I pay for the bears, I notice above the counter the “Bear Promise.” It gets right to the point when it says, “My Bear is Special- I brought it to life.” That’s when it hits me—this may be a store that sells bears, but it’s also an environment that creates experiences. At a superficial level, of course, she’s making something new, in a joyous environment, and it’s fun. But, it also provides three things that are deeper, more meaningful. It seems to recognize that, even at a young age, some girls have a rudimentary understanding and deep appreciation of their potential to give life. It provides the raw materials and gentle guidance to create beauty. And it reinforces my daughter’s desire for personal expression.

I walk away from the store with the two happy, bouncing girls, and I appreciate the ambition of the place. Everything in the store shaped and built on the girl’s experience, leaving us all with an impression of achievement and delight that goes well beyond the actual bears. This is truly something special. The business person in me can’t help but wonder if they’re profitable. I wonder how Morningstar rates them.

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