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Made in Chicago: Tree Hopper Toys in Bensenville

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Match Stack, a memory game for preschoolers, is a best seller for Eric Siegel. He started Tree Hopper Toys as a hobby two years ago.

"I was working out of the garage for a while and then we finally got this shop in July of this year and it's kind of been a full-time business from then on," Siegel said.

In a small shop in suburban Bensenville, he and a couple of employees hand-make a line a wooden toys, including cars they call "jalopies" and classic yo-yos.

"We just use maple, cherry, walnut so it's all Midwestern hardwoods that are all very durable, very beautiful woods, so we don't have to stain them with anything. We just have a light organic beeswax finish on them," Siegel said.

His wife, Molly, who is also an elementary school art teacher, says both parents and children appreciate the toys' simplicity.

"Even though it doesn't have all the gadgets and lights flickering which adults and parents appreciate not having," Molly said, " the kids still see the joy in the toy. It's a car. It rolls."

Siegel prides himself on having all of his parts and even his packaging made in the Chicago area. He hopes to hire more full-time workers by spring. The holiday shopping season could bring a big boost.

"When somebody buys something from our company, it either goes directly to an employee and obviously that money stays local or it's going to another local manufacturer, one of our suppliers, and I know that's important to people. It's important to me," Siegel said.

Tree Hopper Toys are sold in 35 stores nationwide and nine stores in the Chicago area. www.treehoppertoys.com.

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