Build-A-Bear prides itself in creating an entire world around the stuffed bears it sells. That imaginative world includes a Build-A-Bear hospital within the company's St. Louis headquarters where children can send damaged toys; it's Robin Russell's job to fix them.
"Mostly we have dog attacks," says Russell, or "Dr. Robin," as she's known at Build-A-Bear, but she adds that she's seen missing limbs and eyes, bears that have been over-loved and lost all their fur -- you name it.
The hospital started when a customer sent in a stuffed bunny 9 years ago with a note clarifying that replacing it was not an option, and asking if someone at Build-A-Bear would fix it. Russell took on the job of sewing the stuffed rabbit, and basically launched the toy hospital. Three years ago, she was joined by Maria Kaiser, or "Dr. Maria," who says she's always had a knack for arts and crafts. Together, the two co-manage the hospital.
"We get more of the expensive surgeries," Kaiser explains, noting that the more straightforward bear repairs are done at the store level. "A lot of them look impossible, but that's part of the great challenge."
Repairs can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 days. "One of the fun parts is that the kids actually trust us, because they've built up such a bond," says Kaiser. "We're proud to say that we've never lost a patient."
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