On a recent trip to Building 19, I came across a slew of plastic toys that appeared to have been made in the late 70s/early 80s by a company called Come Play Toys, right in Worcester. I’m not sure if someone came across these in an abandoned warehouse, but these are a blast right back to my childhood:
Come Play Products was a company founded by Israel Robert Freelander in 1948. At its height, it employed a few hundred people in a factory on Suffolk Street.
Freelander served in World War II in the US Navy. After his service, he was enrolled as a doctoral student in the Boston University School of Social Work. His dissertation, which I’m pretty sure drew on his education at University of Michigan School of Business, was on how a consumer product could be made and sold in stores through the work of people with disabilities.
The dissertation was made a reality in 1948 with Come Play Products.
Freelander’s father had owned Boutwell’s Toy Shop and a doll hospital on Mechanic Street, so Freelander decided to open a toy factory.
He was committed to hiring people with physical and mental disabilities, and in 1966 he was named Employer of the Year by the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped and the National Association of Manufacturers.
For nearly fifty years, Come Play made inexpensive plastic toys. Nothing terribly innovative — nothing that would require a large national advertising budget — toys anyone could afford, manufactured in the US.
By the late 1990s, Come Play was struggling and the city granted them a TIF that would have enabled them to improve their buildings, expand their manufacturing operations and — above all — not move certain functions to Mexico.
By 2001, the company had filed for bankruptcy and the TIF had been rescinded.
It’s also worth noting that Come Play owned buildings at 64 and 70 Beacon Street — I believe these are part of the Junction Shops that are currently being renovated.
If you’d like to buy a little piece of Worcester gone by, plenty of these toys (cheaply priced, not-always-PC, and in brightly colored plastic glory) are still available at Building 19.
The sources for this post were the following articles from the Telegram and Gazette:
“Toymaker invests in people”, December 24, 1989
“Three TIF deals approved unanimously”, November 20, 1997
“Tax relief for bank rescinded Funding in place for open space deal”, May 22, 2001
I. Robert Freelander obituary, August 16, 2005