- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

BRYAN, Ohio (AP) - For half a century, the western Ohio town of Bryan could always boast proudly that it was home to three genuine American icons whenever strangers might ask what the Williams County seat was known for.

“Whenever I go to meetings I mention the Etch A Sketch, Dum Dum suckers, and Bard air conditioners and furnaces. That’s what makes Bryan, Bryan,” said Douglas Johnson, the town’s mayor.

But in future meetings, Mr. Johnson acknowledged, he’s going to have to refer the famous Etch A Sketch as something that once belonged to Bryan.

Ohio Art Co., the company which owned the drawing toy brand for 55 years, announced Feb. 11 that it had sold the Etch A Sketch brand to toy and entertainment company Spin Master Corp. of Toronto for an undisclosed price.

Ohio Art officials acknowledged that they made the sale with a heavy heart, given the long association with the product that occupies a coveted spot in the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y. But the move was necessary so that the firm could devote more attention and resources to its metal lithography business that employs 75 workers in Bryan.

“Things change. For better or worse, they change,” the mayor said. “So you’ve got to go with the change.”

The toy, which had prominent scenes in such Hollywood hits as Toy Story and Elf, helped put Bryan on the map, the mayor said. “It did bring people to town,” he said.

Matthew Donahue, a professor of pop culture at Bowling Green State University’s popular culture department, said, “I would really hope this isn’t too much of a blow for Bryan, Ohio. Although the company is really well known and known for its Ohio connection to Bryan, Ohio in particular, it is another example of how things are going. I hate to say it, but most toys are made elsewhere these days and not in the United States.”

Mr. Johnson, the mayor, used to operate a Hallmark card store in Bryan and would set aside a section of the store for a dedicated display of Ohio Art toys, with the Etch A Sketch as the centerpiece. The display was always popular with the populace of Bryan, he said.

When the toy had its 50th anniversary in 2010 the company gave out anniversary editions around town. And for years, the town of Bryan would ring in the new year with a ball dropping into a giant Etch A Sketch.

But the town had its first heartbreak in 2000 when, to cut costs, Ohio Art moved production of the toy to China, eliminating 50 jobs in Bryan.

The sale of the Etch A Sketch line to a Canadian firm just completed the process of moving another well-known U.S. brand to a foreign competitor.

Mr. Donahue of BGSU said that, while Ohioans likely think of the Etch A Sketch as an Ohio toy, outside the state most customers don’t make that association.

“The hard core reality is in reference to the toy market, most toys are now made in China, and your average person out there, your general purpose customer, expects things to be made in China,” he said.

Mayor Johnson said he may still claim the toy that got its start in Bryan and was made there for 40 years.

“Forget about it? I don’t think we’re going to let that happen ever,” he said.

___

Information from: The Blade, https://www.toledoblade.com/


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