Local toy-sellers foresee bankruptcy in new testing regulations

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email

Posted by Colby Rogers

New federal toy regulations will go in place next month that require every product for children under the age of 12 to be tested for lead.

The new law is in response to last year's recall of millions of toys made in China that contained harmful amounts of lead.

However, locally owned toy shops and toy-makers say the new regulations go to far and that compliance will be very costly.

World of Mirth in Richmond's Carytown shopping district specializes in handmade, small-business and locally made toys.

"We pride ourselves on having things that you can't find anyplace else," said general manager Thea Brown.

But after last year's lead paint scare, that uniqueness may be in danger. Brown says there's no question the new federally mandated lead testing laws are for a good cause.

"That's not the question here," Brown said. "The question is how it's affecting small companies that are actually making toys, making handmade clothing, making books. They just can't afford the extra testing that's going to be involved."

The lead testing can cost as much as $4,000 per individual toy. Even a single t-shirt can cost hundreds of dollars to test.

The Handmade Toy Alliance, which desribes itself as "an alliance of toy stores, toymakers and children's product manufacturers from across the country" says there are only a few places in the nation that do this kind of toy lead testing. And those facilities can charge whatever they want.

"A lot of companies that we deal with are probably going to out of business, or they are going to do a lot less items at a much higher cost," Brown said, "Which, of course, is going to be passed onto us and then passed on to the consumer."

But it may be the small toymakers that are hit the hardest. Connie Kaiser spends most of her days at home in Powhatan making "mini-monsters" - handsewn stuffed toys and hand-drawn prints on baby clothing.

Kaiser says what she calls her "micro-business" is now in danger of going under after 6 months in operation. The new federal regulations will require her to test each and every toy she makes, even though none of the materials she uses contains any lead.

"You'll see a lot of people who manufacture baby items having going out of business sales," Kaiser said. "The people I talk to online, many of them are closing down shop. There's huge fines associated with selling uncertified toys."

Back at World of Mirth, Thea Brown says the new regulations will mean fewer choices and higher prices for consumers.

"Of course you want safe toys," Brown said. "You want good quality toys that aren't going to harm anyone in your life, but at the same time we need to make sure the testing is fair."

Meanwhile, Kaiser says she is worried that handmade toys will disappear altogether from store shelves.

"I don't think people want that," Kaiser said. "I think they enjoy the handmade and the toys that have a little love that go into them."

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