by Heather McKim
It started with a man with a cart on Church Street. Over the years, the company has transformed into a name synonymous with Shelburne. This June, Vermont Teddy Bear marks its 35th anniversary since those first bears were sold in Burlington.
In 1981, John Sortino started with Bearcho, Buffy, Bearazar, and Fuzzy Wuzzy. Each of those early bears was stitched in his wife’s sewing room. Since those first Bear-Grams, the options have evolved over the years. Today, there is a wide variety of bears readily available, and the opportunity for visitors to create their own custom bears.
“Over time, the bears became more unique,” Bill Shouldice, Vermont Teddy Bear CEO, said. What hasn’t changed, though, is that the bears are all designed, cut, sewn, stuffed, and stitched in Vermont.
To mark this important anniversary, the company created a special 35th anniversary bear. “The 15” bear comes with a Maple landmark medallion and an 8-ounce bottle of maple syrup, and is clad in a cardigan with maple leaf buttons. It is available on the company’s website and in its Shelburne store.
“Vermont Teddy Bear was started from a simple idea: to create quality, handmade bears right here in Vermont. Our 35th Anniversary Limited Edition Bear not only encompasses this simple and important idea, but he also represents Vermont in a very special way: by honoring the centuries-old tradition of maple sugaring,” Shouldice said.
The company also marked its anniversary with some fun both for employees and visitors. On Friday, employees gathered for a cookout to celebrate the company’s years of success. On Saturday, the public got to join in on the anniversary celebration with a host of fun activities including brownie ice cream sundaes, factory tours, music by Raphael Groten, and entertainment from the Big Blue Trunk.
With 35 years behind it, the company plans to continue along its path of success. It has become an integral part of the local community since locating here, which is something that Bear Brand Manager Abby Temeles noted.
“I think that one of the really interesting things about Teddy Bear is the number of lives the company has touched,” Temeles said. It is that strong community connection that Temeles would like to strengthen. She hopes to make the space even more of a local spot.
Temeles said that the growth from a cart on Church Street to the thriving company Vermont Teddy Bear is today has been amazing. The company has had the chance for partnerships with a variety of nonprofits, the Olympics, Ralph Lauren, and others.
As the company moves forward, Shouldice wants to make sure it stays “meaningfully unique.” He said he feels lucky that the company is housed within the Shelburne community, and that there is such a dedicated labor force. “[We] look forward to being [an] employer of choice for many years to come.”