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I found myself randomly in Ryde on the Isle of Wight one weekend visiting friends when whilst searching for a bank I came across a shop-lined street leading down to the Ryde Esplanade. Now flushed with cash I thought I might as well have a wander down the street since I always hope to find quirky shops in these types of areas and as luck would have it one in particular caught my eye.
Koko's Bear Shop
There in the window of 'Koko's Bear Shop' was a fabulous display of cute teddy bears trying to lure you into the shop with their soulful eyes which I could "bearly" resist and so in I went. And no I won't apologise for that pun. Laid before me were shelves packed from the floor to the ceiling with all kinds of teddy bears imaginable. I could see straight away that they were not just your ordinary teddy bears either - further investigation revealed that the majority were in fact collectables and I had clearly stumbled into a bear lover's heaven. 'Koko's Bear Shop' also shared floor space with another business, the confectioners 'Straw Bonnet' so it was two for the price of one!
So why would an arctophile love this shop so much?
***N.B. arctophile n. person who loves or collects teddy bears***
The simple answer is that the bears are quite simply awesome and need a new home.
The slightly more complicated answer is that there's just so much choice you will be guaranteed to find something you like (for me there weren't many I didn't like). You've got sad ones, happy ones, brown ones, purple ones, polar bears, koala bears, bears with clothes, naked bears (hey - they've all got fur in the right places), big ones, little ones, dopey ones, thoughtful ones but they all come with a safety warning of potentially dangerous levels of fluffy cuteness which could cause uncontrollable outbursts of awwwing at inappropriate times.
As far as I can tell from my somewhat limited research the big bear names include such brands as Steiff Bears, Dean's Bears, Hermann Teddy, Kosen, Merrythought and dozens of others. In my honest opinion (as a layperson) I think that a collector would be more than happy in 'Koko's Bear Shop' with the range available - I picked up several names whilst I was in there having a nose around which included Steiff Bears, Dean's Bears, Charlie Bears and Hermann Teddy as well as a huge collection of artist bears (those designed by an individual and handmade so limited and therefore sought after by collectors). Some of these artist bears are weird and wacky and would complement anyone's collection or make an excellent gift for teddy bear lovers.
But, alas, for me it was a case of window shopping only since I am not an official arctophile and due to the fact these high quality bears are clearly top end and aimed at the collectors market the price naturally reflects this so you wouldn't really be able to get a bear for much less than £20 (and I am a cheapskate) and some were well over £200. But it does seem that more often than not collectors are willing to dish out vast wads of cash to enhance their collections and I suspect that the prices in this shop would be perfectly within the bounds they would be willing to pay. There were a few smaller and cheaper items which could well be suitable for gifts such as keyring bears, pendants and photo frames but overall I would say the stock was much more suited to serious buyers.
Koko's Bear Factory
There was also a nice little surprise in the back room with Koko's very own Bear Factory (that is bear and not beer just for clarification). Just like the Build-A-Bear franchise you get a chance to buy your very own bear and customise it with whatever clothes and accessories you want. There were lots of fun little outfits to choose from like Spiderman, evil Spiderman, a tuxedo a la James Bond and all kinds of sweet and tiny suits that just made you coo over them (assuming a female disposition of course). These would also make an excellent gift for children as they would get a chance to be creative, and would probably also appeal to those young-at-heart arctophiles out there!
There was just so much sweetness everywhere I looked and as I began to develop an unfamiliar warm and fuzzy feeling I felt sure I was developing Type 2 diabetes which moves me on to the....
Well I have made no attempts to hide my chocoholic nature in the past so I won't lie when I say I was delighted by this addition to the shop. Although named as a separate shop it did feel like a joint venture and that the two complemented each other perfectly. So with the Straw Bonnet you get a chance to buy pre-packaged boxes of chocolates and other confectionaries or you could hand pick your own from the delicious looking ones they have on display.
Apparently, according to the helpful and friendly staff, some of these are specially imported Belgian chocolates but most of them are actually made within the shop using local ingredients sourced from the Isle of Wight itself. I'm not sure how they make them but I can honestly say out of the ones I bought (I'm never a cheapskate when it comes to chocolate) were some of the tastiest chocolates I'd ever tried. It must be the Belgium element that really got the old taste buds going! I distinctly remember trying some rich truffles, some pralines and a gorgeous raspberry centred chocolate which had the most realistic fruit taste I can remember since I started eating chocolate 4 months out of the womb. It's a lifetime commitment.
I also came away with a sizeable dinosaur shaped slab of chocolate (just trying to recapture my youth) which unfortunately was demolished in less than 5mins. Sometimes I despair at my lack of will power. If only I had know how good these chocolates were before I left the island I would have a). bought the entire stock or b). kidnapped the confectionary genius behind them and forced them to become my personal chocolate slave. Ah well, another opportunity missed.
This is just such a lovely shop to be in - surrounded by teddy bears and chocolates, what more could a girl want? There is a brilliant range for both chocolates and bears and it is an ideal place to buy someone a gift (if you're willing to spend a little bit) or to treat your undoubtedly worthy self to some TLC. The staff were also incredibly friendly and helpful when it came to chocolate and teddy bear related questions and really added to the welcoming atmosphere.
I think I made it quite clear that I liked the confectionary side of the shop (something which I consider myself to be a connoisseur of) and whilst not really knowing all that much about collectable bears I think there is a terrific selection in this shop which will really appeal to a lot of different people. I also suspect that the bears on offer will change intermittently throughout the year as new products emerge and seasons change so there'll always be something new to look out for.
I think however the only downside really is the location of the shop is not really in the most eye-catching location and unless you know about it already you're probably not that likely to stumble across it. Also, the price for some of the better bears is a little steep unless you are a serious collector which may be a little off-putting for those looking for a small gift, but some of the bears are just so exquisite you may just change your mind when you've seen them!
So if you're ever on the Isle of Wight I recommend you give this shop a visit - you won't regret it. But, if you are a bear lover and you'd love to visit this store but suspect your chances of visiting the Isle of Wight to be slim to none, and slim has left town than don't worry as 'Koko's Bear Shop' does sell these bears on line and you can check out the merchandise here:
You can also sign up to their mailing list to make sure you don't miss anything special.
Koko's Bear Shop 16 Union Street Ryde Isle of Wight PO33 2DU
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