North Star Toys

When Tim and Connie Long started North Star Toys, a wooden toy company based in the mountains in northeast New Mexico in 1979, it was a natural fit. Tim loved working with wood since his childhood days building soapbox cars, and Connie’s experience as a preschool teacher had shown her the importance of play in childhood development. The two started making wooden toys for friends and family as a hobby, and were happily surprised when they sold their entire inventory at a local crafts fair. The couple started North Star Toys shortly thereafter.

Since 1979, Tim and Connie have been designing and making all of the toys they sell, adding new designs and improving old ones as the years have gone by. The couple started with a wooden paddle wheel boat, equipped with a rubber band to move it through water. The boat is still part of their collection, and they now have rolling toys, animals, and more.

“We’re committed to the idea that children learn so much through their play,” says Connie, “So our toys all encourage imaginative play.”

Customers concerned about 2007’s rash of toy safety recalls can rest assured when they purchase from North Star Toys: The Longs are dedicated to ensuring that every toy they make is nontoxic and safe for children and the environment. They use a food-grade mineral oil for the finish on each toy, and all paints are certified nontoxic. All of the wood used to make the toys either comes from scraps from local cabinet makers or from a sustainably managed local lumber company. The Longs donate their own wooden scraps to a nearby school, where children use them to create toys and art.

In addition, their studio boasts a passive solar design to improve energy efficiency, and both the North Star studio and the Longs’ home is run on wind power purchased from their local utility.

As the Longs’ business grew, so did their family. They had two daughters who have always been part of the business—as children, they were North Star’s official toy testers. Now, they assist with Web development and publicity. But even as the company grows, the Longs are determined to keep it close to its roots.

“We’re always getting calls and e-mails from manufacturers in China, saying ‘We can save you money by manufacturing your products for you,’” says Connie, “But we always have been and always will be a family-run, sustainable business.”

—Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist