Tag Archives: Melissa Bernstein

Roundup: Amazon — And More Books …

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Connecticut — already in the Top 5 states nationwide for its COVID vaccine program — took a huge step forward yesterday.

Governor Lamont announced the expansion of the vaccine to everyone over the age of 16. The planned date to begin scheduling those shots is April 5. That’s significantly ahead of the previous target date.

This Friday (March 19), scheduling opens to all residents age 45 to 54.

For information on making appointments and finding the closest available clinic. click here. You can also call Connecticut’s vaccine appointment assist line: 877-918-2224 7 days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Other vaccine providers include:

Yale New Haven Health
Sign up online here, or call 833-275-9644

CVS Health (limited locations)
Sign up online here, or call 800-679-9691.

Walgreens (limited locations)
Sign up online here, or call 800-925-4733

Stamford Health
Sign-up online here, or call 203-276-7300.

Hartford Healthcare
Sign-up online here, or call 860-827-7690.

Infants are not yet eligible for the COVID vaccine. Maybe soon though …

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The best selling book on Amazon yesterday was LifeLines: An Inspirational Journey from Profound Darkness to Radiant Light.

And by “best selling,” I mean just that. Westporter Melissa Bernstein’s book about her battle with existential anguish and depression was #1.

Not just in the self-help category. Not in “books by women authors.” Not in any of the dozens of other categories that Amazon uses to try to create buzz.

Lifelines was Amazon’s best selling book, among the bajillions of titles the retail behemoth sells.

It may have gotten a boost from fellow Westporter David Pogue’s segment about it on “CBS Sunday Morning,” the day before.

But it also benefits from being a very important book, by a well-known and very honest writer, at a time when talking (and reading) about mental health is crucial.

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Alec Lobrano graduated from Weston High School in 1973. Until he landed a job in the Paris office of Women’s Wear Daily, his experience with French cuisine was limited to browsing cookbooks at the Weston Library, where he worked as a teenager.

But he carved out a niche as a food critic in Paris. The lessons he learned from leading culinary figures helped him master fine dining, and also find his place as a gay man navigating the alluring city and his exciting career.

Lobrano has won several James Beard Awards. He writes on food and travel for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Saveur, Food & Wine, Eater, Condé Nast Traveler and more.

His memoir — My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris — will be published June 1.

The book is filled with vivid descriptions of Parisian restaurants, his favorite and least favorite meals, and run-ins with figures from like Julia Child and Ruth Reichl. It’s also a coming-of-age story about the healing power of food. Click here for details.

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On March 30 (7 p.m.), Westport takes center ice in hockey world.

NBC Sports’ Emmy-winning NHL broadcaster Mike Emrick sits with USA Today‘s veteran beat writer Kevin Allen, for a discussion about Emrick’s new book, Off Mike.

The candid discussion about his exciting life is free. Click here to register.

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Weston’s beloved Jolantha celebrates St. Patrick’s Day:

(Photo/Hans Wilhelm)

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And finally … though the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, was officially ratified in 1865, it took 130 more years for Mississippi’s formal approval. It happened on this day in 1995.

Roundup: Melissa & David, The Cottage …

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A Westporter helps Westporters who help the world.

That was the theme of David Pogue’s telecast yesterday. He walked a few yards from his home, to Melissa and Doug Bernstein’s. There — with a “CBS Sunday Morning” camera crew — he interviewed the toy company co-founder about her lifelong battle with existential anguish and depression.

The Bernsteins’ new project — Lifelines — is an ecosystem for mental health support, resources and education. Pogue brought their work to a national television audience. Click below for that very important report.

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The Cottage is expanding.

Brian Lewis — chef/owner of the very popular Colonial Green restaurant (and OKO, on Wilton Road) is opening another Cottage in Greenwich.

The 49 Greenwich Avenue spot will seat over 60. As in Westport, it will celebrate seasonal ingredients, sourced from local purveyors and farmers. The Cottage Greenwich is slated to open later this year.

“We’ve always looked forward to the day that we can bring The Cottage to a new market after being so blessed with our devoted clientele and hardworking team in Westport,” says Lewis.

“As we experienced such continued support during COVID and after 6 successful years in Westport, the time was right to grow and find a sister location to complement the original Cottage.”

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And finally … well, it’s March 15, so beware!

Melissa Bernstein Offers Hope For Anguish, Depression

In the toy industry, Melissa Bernstein is a rock star.

The world knows her as co-founder and chief creative officer — with her co-founder husband and fellow native Westporter — of Melissa & Doug. The $500 million company is legendary for its toys that encourage interactive, hands-on play, and spark the imagination of children in a way screens and high-tech never can.

Yet for most of her life, Melissa Bernstein did not even know herself.

She and Doug built the business from scratch. It was their idea, their execution, their 32 years of hard — yet very fulfilling — work.

Melissa Bernstein, with some of her creations.

They married in 1992. They have 6 accomplished children, ranging in age from 27 to 13. They built a beautiful home.

Yet all along — for as long as she can recall — Melissa lived with existential anguish and depression. It made her who she is.

And at times, it made her want to end her life.

Existential anguish and depression is not a DSM diagnosis. But her torment — a crisis of doubt and meaning — was frighteningly real. It was “the darkest nihilism. Life seemed absurd and futile.”

Her mother remembers Melissa screaming every day, for the first year of her life. It was not colic; these were terrifying shrieks. “I had no words or creative solutions to what I was feeling,” Melissa says.

Melissa and Doug Bernstein.

Melissa grew up with that pain. But she was creative too. She wrote verses, and was a musician. But in college, realizing she would never play professionally, she quit music cold turkey.

She sought solace in academic performance. Looking back, she says, that turn “took me out of my heart, and into my head.” She felt “completely and utterly worthless.”

It was a coping mechanism involving denial, resistance, avoidance and dissonance, Melissa realizes now.

She created a “perfect, fictitious world” in her head. She lived in that “blissful place, filled with imaginary friends,” for at least a decade.

To the outside world, Melissa projected a façade of perfection. She worked, volunteered with the Levitt Pavilion, Music Theater of Connecticut and July 4th fireworks. She ferried her children to every sport and activity. The biggest criticism of her as a parent, she says, was that she seemed “emotionless.”

Doug and Melissa Bernstein, with their 6 children.

“Part of my validation was being a martyr,” she says. “I had to put one foot in front of the other. I had to think of my kids before me.”

Doug did not have an inkling of what Melissa was going through. But neither did she.

“I couldn’t let this demon come up,” she notes. “If I did, it would have taken me down.”

Five years ago, Melissa began to “connect the dots in a profound way.” She was exhausted. “I wanted to stop racing. It’s hard to resist everything you feel and are,” she says.

She listened to podcasts like “The Good Life Project.” She read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” She learned that “as humans, our number one motive is a search for meaning.”

Melissa says, “My heart stopped. With profound alacrity, I knew what I was afflicted with.”

The more she learned, the more she realized that highly creative people — Beethoven, Mozart, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Emily Dickinson, Hemingway — shared her anguish.

For the first time in her life, Melissa did not feel alone.

Understanding her hypersensitivity to “both the beauty of the world, and unbearable pain,” she cried for 3 days.

She had awakened a window into her soul. She came to terms that her creative blessing was also a curse.

Melissa Bernstein

All those verses she’d written; all the toys she’d developed — they were outward signs of who Melissa Bernstein is. Now, she knew, she had to accept internally who she is too.

She could not do it alone. With the help of therapist Loredana Trandu, she has learned to make sense of her life.

“My journey with her was arduous. It was the lowest I ever felt,” Melissa says. “But she was there every step of the way. She’d been to that spot. I wasn’t scared.”

Now, Melissa wants to help others.

First, she shared her story on Jonathan Fields’ “Good Life” project. Hundreds of listeners responded. Their words were soulful and heart-wrenching. One told Melissa, “you put words to what was ineffable and hidden.”

She emailed or called every one. She followed up in depth with nearly 100.

Now, she and Doug have developed LifeLines. An ecosystem — books, videos, podcasts, community — its goal is to “help frame those soul-searching questions that allow you to explore your authentic self and discover what makes you tick.”

Melissa Bernstein reads her “LifeLines” book.

LifeLines is based on 3 premises:

  • You are not alone
  • We all have the capacity to channel darkness into light
  • We will not find true fulfillment and peace until we look inward and accept ourselves.

Completely free — funded by the Bernsteins — it’s about to roll out nationally. Major media like the Washington Post, USA Today, People, Elle magazine and “Good Day New York” are covering LifeLines this week and next.

Westporter David Pogue airs a segment on “CBS Sunday Morning” this weekend (March 14).

David Pogue tapes a segment with Melissa Bernstein, in her Westport home.

LifeLines has become Melissa’s life. She has recorded nearly 3 dozen podcasts, and oversees every aspect of the project. Yet she still takes time each day to speak to individual men and women — people just like her, who feel the same overpowering existential anguish and depression.

Being on the national stage — and speaking to strangers — is important. But Melissa is our neighbor. Sometimes the hardest part of baring our souls is doing it to those who know us well.

The other day at a Staples basketball game, a woman looked away when they met. Then she said, “I’m so sorry.”

Melissa felt badly that the woman felt so uncomfortable.

“We need a huge education program,” she says. “We know what to say, and not say, when someone dies. Now we need a new national conversation on how to talk about mental health.”

It’s taken Melissa Bernstein her entire life to discover herself, and open that internal dialogue. Now, with LifeLines, she’s opening up to the world.

The chief creative officer of one of the world’s leading toy companies is playing for keeps.

(PS: On Thursday, March 18 at 7 p.m., the Westport Library hosts a conversation with Melissa — and me — about her journey. Click here to register.)

 

Toys R Tariffs: The Melissa & Doug Connection

President Trump’s on-again, off-again tariff decisions have rattled the global economy.

Here in the US, sectors ranging from aluminum to footwear have felt whipsawed by decisions made and remade in the White House. The latest industry is a big one: toys.

Earlier this week, the president delayed a new 10 percent tariff on some Chinese imports, from September 1 to December 15. That gives toy manufacturers some breathing room, before and during the make-or-break holiday season.

Melissa and Doug Bernstein

Westport has an important dog in this hunt. Melissa & Doug was founded in 1988 by Doug and Melissa Bernstein, in his parents’ garage on Guyer Road. Over the past 31 years it’s become a highly respected creator, manufacturer and distributor of educational toys, including wooden puzzles, arts and crafts products and more.

Bernstein breathed a sigh of relief at the tariff delay. But, he said yesterday, the larger question is the entire concept of a “trade war.”

“Wars are not good,” he said. “They cause casualties: human, social and economic. Calling this a ‘war’ is not a good thing.” He would prefer to see trade policy discussed “amicably.”

Like most American toy companies, the vast majority — 85 to 90% — of Melissa & Doug’s products are made in China.

This founders did not set out to manufacture overseas. Years ago, Bernstein said, he brought prototypes to factories across in the US. No one wanted the job.

The issue was not price. Rather, it was the “massive amount of handiwork” that goes into each Melissa & Doug item. “They can’t be stamped out” — and American factories could not do it at a price that would be reasonable for consumers.

A small selection of Melissa & Doug toys.

Over the years, Melissa & Doug built strong relationships in China. Today, around 200 or so employees oversee quality and inspection there. “They work for us,” he said. “They’re not 3rd-party contractors.”

While other companies talk about moving production to other parts of the world — Vietnam and India are often mentioned — Melissa & Doug worries about losing quality control.

“We have 3 tenets,” the co-founder says. “We make educational products for children; we make them with the absolute best quality we can, and we price them as affordably as possible. We don’t want them accessible only to kids who grow up in a place like Westport.”

So — even with higher tariffs — Bernstein and his wife are committed to “not passing on higher pricing to consumers. Other companies say that if the tariffs take effect on December 15, they’ll have to raise prices by 10, 20 or 25% in 2020. We’re working very hard not to do that. We would probably absorb most, if not all, of the cost.”

They’ve already been tested. In addition to toys, Melissa & Doug produce items like chalk and markers. They’ve already been hit with several million dollars in tariffs — and have not raised prices.

Bernstein sounds a hopeful note, though. “Honestly, I didn’t think the tariffs would happen on September 1. And I think there’s a high likelihood they won’t happen on December 15. This is a game of chess, and we’re pawns. No one gains from a trade war. I think agreements will be reached.”

Besides chess, Bernstein uses another analogy to describe the last few months.

“We’ve been on a roller coaster,” he says. “It would be one thing if there were transparent discussions. But for us — and everyone in the industry — it’s been up and down, on and off, 10%, 25%, September 1, December 15.”

That’s one game the Westport toy manufacturer has no desire to play.

Moms Matter

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 12.

But you don’t have to wait that long to celebrate Mom — or, more specifically, motherhood and the “MOMents that Mattered.”

WestportMoms — the wonderful, multi-platform resource — sponsors a cocktails-and-conversation event by that name on Tuesday, May 7 (7 p.m., Pearl at Longshore).

Six rock-star local moms —

  • Alisyn Camerota, CNN anchor
  • Stephanie Szostak, star of ABC’s “A Million Little Things”
  • Melissa Bernstein, co-founder of Melissa & Doug
  • Elyse Oleksak, founder of Bantam Bagels
  • Lindsay Czarniak, sports broadcaster
  • Emily Liebert, author

— will share some of the tough choices they’ve made balancing families and careers. And they’ll talk about what makes Westport special to them.

The food is on WestportMoms. There’s also a cash bar.

Attendees are asked to bring a package of diapers, for donation to the Diaper Bank of Connecticut.

It’s all a “celebration of being moms together.”

Save the date. Then book a babysitter.

Or better yet, tell your spouse to feed the kids that day.

(Click here for more information.)

Melissa & Doug & The Times Business Section

Melissa and Doug Bernstein do things in a big way.

The Westport couple have a big house. A big family. A big toy company.

Melissa & DougNow that company, also named Melissa & Doug — along with their house and family — is featured in a big story on Page 1 of today’s New York Times business section.

The piece describes the company’s quick rise — in 25 years, they’ve reached an estimated $325 million in revenue — as “an anachronism.”

Matt Richtel writes:

In a time when major corporations dominate the industry, making toys with all manner of batteries, digital gimmicks or movie tie-ins, the Bernsteins keep making money in wooden puzzles, coloring pads, blocks, trains and simple costumes (the police officer, the princess, the pirate). They hatch many of their ideas by watching children at play — often among their own brood of six.

They do little public relations and don’t advertise in magazines, or on radio and television. They don’t put coupons in Sunday newspaper inserts. They don’t rely on big hits, industry analysts say, just a steady stream of variations on classic toys mostly for children up to the age of 5.

It’s an intriguing story, about an interesting company and the Westporters behind it. (Click here to read the entire piece.)

And — in keeping with the “big” theme — a very big photo of Doug, Melissa and 2 of their kids sprawls across the entire top half of the Sunday Business front page.

Doug and Melissa  Bernstein, with 2 of their children: Nate (age 5) and Sydelle (9). (Photo by Christopher Capozziello/New York Times)

Doug and Melissa Bernstein, with 2 of their children: Nate (age 5) and Sydelle (9). (Photo by Christopher Capozziello/New York Times)