If you are looking for some locally made toys for gifts this season, check Minnesota-based BEKA, Inc.In college, I had the privilege of being a nanny to a family with three awesome kids. They were highly creative and fun. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that they were “forced” to play. They didn’t watch very much TV.
Their toys were simple and basic–board games and puzzles, dolls and army men, bicycles and balls. My favorite toy memory was their building blocks. The kids would take their big blocks that filled two large baskets and design set-ups for their little wooden soldiers and little people, fortresses, cottages, castles, car ramps.
I ran across Beka, Inc at Peapods just a few years ago. It is a family-owned and operated, local company that manufactures natural wood products that started in St. Paul in 1973. The Kreisman brothers, Jamie and Richard and Peter, moved to Minnesota from Oregon to start a yarn shop together. During the start-up, they decided to begin fashioning looms and accessories that would benefit yarn shops and weavers. Not one of them was a woodworker or even a businessman. However, they didn’t let that stop them, and they plunged in with both feet.
As the yarn market grew smaller and the Kreisman family grew larger with the addition of children, their focus changed from looms to toys. Still insisting on high quality products, they started to offer maple blocks and art easels.
Their most popular products are the easels which can be custom designed. Everything is built in modular form so you can choose from a selection of different boards–chalkboard, whiteboard, magnetic board–between two different types of trays, and from other accessories. The blocks also come in different sets: Traditional Block Sets, Little Builder Sets, and Special Shapes Sets. You can also purchase blocks individually.
Easels and Maple Blocks are joined with other products like the puppet theatre, lemonade stand, train table, art table, and doll house. Other crafting tools and accessories take us back to Beka’s loom designing days. Different models of the Beginner’s Looms and Rigid Heddle Looms are available as an array of other weaving and knitting tools (I don’t know anything about this, but after working in this business for 40 years, I am completely certain these are the best you will find).
Beka, Inc. makes toys that will span the generations. These toys engage the mind and use imagination. They intentionally choose to to design toys that come with no bells and whistles. Their toys are fun all the time because they won’t break easily–last for years– and don’t take batteries or any power source beyond your imagination.
They do one thing* and do it well. Their products are sustainable and eco-friendly and have been from the beginning. The toys are 100% made in Minnesota or within our region. And if you are into comparing prices, Beka, Inc. is very competitive. The great prices the big names were able to offer in their start-up are not sustainable and they need to rise to meet the needs of their company.
Another thought: If you buy a block set from a big toystore (like Toys R Us or Target), those toys are made overseas and you get what you get. But if you buy local, it is much more likely that you will be able to customize.
Where can you find Beka’s products? They are sold in every state in the United States and even overseas. Also, through online retailers and through their website.
*Their one thing happens to be several things that are made out of natural wood.