A bear for Bainbridge

The FAO Schwarz icon takes up residence at island day care.

Editor's note: This story first ran in the Jan. 21 Review.

Doug Hartley and 12-year old daughter Amelia have been giggling uncontrollably since Monday afternoon.

But then, it’s not every day you get to bring home the FAO Schwarz bear.

Via online auction site eBay, the Hartleys made the winning bid of $11,800, plus tax, for the enormous bronze teddy bear that sits outside the FAO Schwarz toy store on Sixth Avenue and Pike Street in downtown Seattle.

The bear – the signature icon of the once proud, 15-store nationwide toy chain – was auctioned off as the bankrupt company’s assets are liquidated. The chain folded in December, saying it could not compete with low-ball prices offered by Wal-Mart and other retailers.

The bear was one of three made for FAO Schwarz by Robert Shure Skylight Studios of Woburn, Mass.

In its new home on Bainbridge Island, it will greet visitors to the Hartleys’ First Years children’s center, a day care now located on Knechtel Way but moving to High School Road in April.

“We’ve being trying to think of what to put on the really plain building (of the new center),” said Kathy Hartley, Doug’s wife and First Years owner. “(Doug) wanted something unique in the building.

“(The bear) kind of appeared, (and) that was what we needed to put in front of the building.”

Doug says his first thought upon seeing the bear up for sale was “Cool!”

The family first saw the bear last Saturday evening while shopping in Seattle, and saw a piece of paper on it saying it was being auctioned on eBay.

“When I saw it, I thought, ‘Oh, we don’t want that bear,’” Kathy said. “But my husband really wanted it.”

Returning home, Doug checked eBay and saw that the current bid was only $150 and the auction would close at 1 p.m. Monday. He put in a bid limit of $1,000.

“When it got past $3,000, I got nervous,” Doug said, because he had told his wife he would not go any higher.

Sunday afternoon, he and his daughter went to Seattle to see the bear again, to see how it was put together and consider the technicalities of moving it.

The bear is 12 feet, 3 inches tall, about 6 feet wide, cast in bronze; although hollow inside, it weighs 6,000 pounds. The winning bidder would be required to fix the sidewalk after moving the bear.

When Hartley got home, bidding was still climbing.

“When it got past $10,000, I got really nervous and pulled out all my credit cards and called Visa to make sure I could max it out,” Doug said.

But the Hartleys outlasted other suitors.

“I thought he had gotten it for $3,000. I think he was afraid to tell me,” Kathy said. “But now I’m happy. Our whole life is about this day care.”

Doug Hartley teaches technical classes and physics at Chief Sealth High School in Seattle, and then at First Years when he comes home.

“My wife thinks I’m crazy. I’ve been giggling ever since I bought the thing,” Doug said. “(It’s) maybe the stupidest thing I’ve done.”

Kathy added, “I got into it and figured that it’s going to look great. The kids and parents love it. Everyone I talked to loves the idea.”

The bear will be moved to Bainbridge Island this Saturday.

Hartley called sculptor Shure in Massachusetts, who told him, “You got a deal. It cost $70,000 to make.”

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