Vermont Teddy Bear stands firm Governor says he's opposed to 'crazy' bear
MONTPELIER – Despite mounting opposition – including Vermont Gov. James Douglas – the makers of a straitjacket-wearing teddy bear said Thursday they would continue selling the controversial stuffed toy.
Although he did not directly call on the Vermont Teddy Bear Co. to remove the 15-inch bear from its shelves, Douglas said he finds the toy in poor taste.
"If it were my choice it would have never been offered in the first place," Douglas said during his weekly news conference. "Mental health is very serious. We should not stigmatize it further with these marketing efforts."
The Shelburne-based company first put the "Crazy for You" bear on its Web site at the beginning of the week, prompting mental health advocates to call for its immediate removal. The company declined, saying the bear was meant to convey how someone might feel about their sweetie on Valentine's Day. The $70 bear will be discontinued after Feb. 14, as the company planned. In addition to wearing a straitjacket, the bear comes with "commitment papers" – simulations of legal documents used to force a mentally ill person into involuntary treatment.
On Thursday, advocates stepped up their campaign to have the bear removed. In a letter to Elizabeth Robert, Vermont Teddy Bear's chief executive officer, the advocates said they were shocked at the company's behavior.
"We are frankly very surprised and disappointed that Vermont Teddy Bear Co. has decided to choose profit margin over public sensitivity," said the letter, signed by three mental health groups and Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield. "Despite your acknowledgment that it was an 'edgy' marketing strategy and that it is offensive to some people, you are moving ahead with the product."
The letter asked for a meeting with Robert, who, according to a company spokeswoman, has agreed to talk to the mental health advocates. But it will continue selling the bear.
"We have received their letter, and have agreed to meet with them to discuss their concerns," said Nicole L'Huillier, the spokeswoman. She noted that a "buzz" still surrounds the bear, but she did not have sales figures for the last several days.
To mental health advocates, the issue is clear: making light of a serious illness sends a terrible message.
"From our perspective, the campaign is insensitive, demeaning and wholly inappropriate for a company with a previous history of socially responsible behavior," the advocates' letter said.
Vermont Teddy Bear churns out more than 450,000 stuffed bears a year in its Shelburne Road facility. Its worldwide popularity is one of the reasons the factory is consistently ranked as one of the state's top tourist attractions.
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