Melissa & Doug: Toys R Them

It’s holiday time. Frazzled parents and grandparents race around, corralling all the must-have latest toys and gadgets for every kid on their list.

They can’t find it all, of course. Thank god for Amazon.

But plenty of child gifts fly under the radar. Thank god for Melissa & Doug.

The Wilton-based, Westport-bred manufacturer of low-tech — but simple, colorful and very popular wooden toys — is swimming happily (and profitably) against the high-tech, highly disposable, plastic toy tide.

Melissa and Doug Bernstein

Parents around the world know and love Melissa & Doug toys. But the company — and its owners, Melissa and her Staples High School graduate husband Doug Bernstein — keeps a low profile. They don’t get much press.

Until now. Vox — the huge news and information website — just published a long, in-depth piece on Melissa & Doug (the business, and the human beings).

From start to finish, it sings the praises of the firm (and its owners).

For example, writer Chavie Lieber says:

In an era when children are bombarded with screens and all manners of tech, the company has maintained its spot in the crowded toy market despite the fact that — and perhaps because — the company’s toys have no electronic components to them. Melissa & Doug is set on making toys that are meant to be timeless, in an effort to preserve a cornerstone of childhood that the founders believe is under attack: open-ended play.

The piece explains why wooden toys are so important; how Melissa and Doug’s backgrounds (both are children of educators) inform their work; the importance of Amazon to their early 2000s growth; the role of open-ended play (particularly with simple toys) in child development; the negative effects of screens on kids, and the Bernsteins’ fight against too much technology.

It’s a fascinating piece. And it ends by noting that one of Melissa & Doug’s most popular toys of all time is a set of natural-finished hardwood blocks.

It is, Vox says, “perhaps the oldest toy in history. The company wouldn’t want it any other way.”

(Click here for the full Vox story. Hat tip: Ken Wirfel)


10 responses to “Melissa & Doug: Toys R Them

  1. They sell there stuff in the new toy store downtown right across from westport pizza

  2. thank you melissa and doug for your toys

    There is a great story on NPR’s How You Built That-

  4. Two years ago I heard about a Bridgeport toy drive where they were hoping to give one toy to nearly 1,000 kids – they had less than 200 with only a couple of days left. I took a wild shot in the dark and emailed Melissa. She wrote back personally within 10 minutes and said she was packing a truck full of toys, where did they need to go. And then she did it again the next year. No questions asked. That’s a quality human being.

    • Great to hear.

      And their overall story is testament to building a successful business from scratch the right way.

  5. Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

    We are watching a 4th generation playing with the wooden blocks from my husband’s family and the Lincoln logs from my family. They never grow old,
    ( the toys) loose their usefulness or break. They spark imaginations and end up in very creative play. The grand kids that have become teenagers probably would cringe if they knew I was mentioning that when they visit the blocks come out……..
    Giving a wooden toy means that you are encouraging creativity and gifting a future heirloom. Well done Melissa and Doug.

  6. Joyce Barnhart

    Because of the Westport connection, I’ve always felt a special pleasure getting Melissa and Doug toys for my grandchildren, but that would mean very little if the toys weren’t the beautiful imaginative things they are. Their success is a wonderful story that is even more wonderful when you know the backstory and learn what good people they are. Are their toys manufactured in the U.S.A so they’d qualify for a spot on ABC World New Tonight’s “Made in America” feature? (No harm no foul if they’re not, but maybe something else to recommend them.)

  7. My sons are probably older than both Melissa and Doug, so they couldn’t have played with their toys. BUT — they had blocks, lots of blocks, and many other toys. Which ones did they play with most — the blocks! There is something about them that appeals to childrens’ imaginations and creativity.

  8. It’s too bad most, if not all the toys are manufactured in China….

  9. How could you release this post while it had “God” in lower case????