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Handmade toys may soon be too expensive for U.S. consumers

For Christmas last year, I bought my boys all handmade wooden toys. There were the delightful and pricey trucks from England; sweet round shields from here in Portland, Ore.; and the castle pieces made in Vermont. This year I'm planning to get a few more trucks, a dragon, and a couple of princes and princesses from the same Vermont toymaker. Next year? Maybe I'll make my own. Because in order to comply with the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) (an act which generally does lovely things, such as ban the manufacture of toys with lead and phthalates and ban their importation into the U.S.), all toymakers must pay a testing fee of $4,000 per type of toy they make, as well as permanently labeling them with a batch number and date (requiring them to create new molds in many cases).

The effects of this fee, while barely felt by huge toymakers such as Mattel and Hasbro, will be to all but destroy the thriving handmade toy industry in the U.S. and, for many importers, end their relationships with U.S. consumers. German wood toy maker Selecta Spielzeug has already announced its intention to pull its toys from the U.S. market, effective December 31. In a statement, the company said its retail prices would have to increase "by at least 50 percent, which would price these products out of the market." Small toymakers, such as the little company which sells wooden shields at a wholesale price of $7, would be out of business, as would nearly every other small American, Canadian and European toy company, according to the Handmade Toy Alliance. What's more, it could decimate Etsy, a marketplace for handmade goods.

As if this weren't enough bad news for toy buyers, the CPSIA only bans the manufacture of new toys containing lead and phthalates, but allows retailers to continue selling toys made before the act's effective date, February 10, 2009; prompting a lawsuit by consumer groups asking to close the loophole. Small toy makers, Waldorf-style toy retailers, and parents who love handmade toys are all getting involved in activism asking for a way to let what is, ironically, a reaction to toxic toys -- consumers embracing hand made wooden and cloth alternatives -- survive. I'm upset about this development, as I have loved involving my children in the economy of small, loving handcrafters rather than the toy industry that's so many times betrayed us.

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