Anyone new to the Tri-State area may be surprised to learn the area’s most famous bear has a name: Eddie Bear. Locals have been aware of Eddie Bears, the cuddly, sharply dressed bear, for nearly two decades. What they may not be aware of is Eddie Bear’s legacy of charity, hope and inspiration. This holiday season, as the Eddie Bear turns 20, let’s revisit the story behind the Eddie Bear and consider why Eddie Bears are still vitally important today.
Eddie Bears are modeled after 5’2” firebrand Ed Hartman. You may recognize Ed from Furniture Fair’s TV spots, often standing alongside the towering Anthony Munoz. As the marketing director for Furniture Fair for the last 29 years, Ed is constantly looking for new promotional ideas, whether it be a giveaway or in-store contest. One day back in 1999 a salesman dropped by Ed’s office with a large Teddy Bear. Someone cracked the joke that the bear looked “Ed-sized.” Ed, who’s never shy about poking fun at himself, agreed and named the scruffy-faced bear the Eddie Bear.
“The first Eddie Bear had a big red bow on it,” remembers Ed fondly. “We gave them out to anyone who made a purchase of $399 or more at our store during the holidays.” The giveaway was a hit. Starting the first week of November and ending Christmas Eve 1999, Furniture Fair gave away 6,000 Eddie Bears.
Because the Eddie Bear was such an immediate smash, Ed started to look for other opportunities to showcase the bear. However, the opportunity that arose had an ominous beginning. The day before her third birthday, Ed’s granddaughter, Karmen, was diagnosed with Leukemia. Thus began a 7-year battle with the disease that fortunately Karmen won. “Now she’s 15 and has been cancer free for 5 years,” Ed says proudly.
The ordeal changed Ed. He felt he had to do something to help other families going through the same struggle his family had, and best-case scenario, stop the disease from ever happening in the first place. “If you have a relative or friend who has suffered from a blood disease of any kind, you know what kind of passion you develop for finding a cure,” Ed says.
Ed reached out to his local chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS.org), a charitable organization that funds cancer research and helps children and families suffering from blood diseases, and suggested they partner with the Eddie Bear and Furniture Fair. “(My granddaughter) is why I got involved and why Furniture Fair is involved.”
The partnership was immediately fruitful, as Furniture Fair began donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the annual Eddie Bears and collecting donations for LLS at all Furniture Fair locations. But that wasn’t all. “I got Furniture Fair to get behind LLS by hosting an annual charity golf tournament,” Ed recalls. The greater charitable umbrella—affectionately dubbed Ed’s Friends—is a conglomerate of various Cincinnati media, corporate partners, and of course, Furniture Fair. “We just had our 11th year (of the golf tournament),” Ed says. “Over the 11 years we’ve raised $1.5 million for blood cancer research.”
The Eddie Bear has become the symbol of this charitable partnership. But who designs the Eddie Bear’s look, which changes every year?
“Usually I pick out the Eddie Bear costume,” Ed says. But this year was different. Ed took to social media and had his fellow Tri-State residents vote on which Eddie Bear would be the 20th anniversary edition: an Eddie Bear in a tuxedo, a Super Eddie Bear, and an Eddie Bear policeman. “They picked the Eddie Bear in the police costume. So that’s the 2019 Eddie Bear!”
Looking back over the 20 years of Eddie Bear, there’s been many different iterations of the Eddie Bear. But does Ed have a favorite? “I think if I had to choose one… A few years back I did some hang-gliding off a mountain in the Swiss Alps with a guide. I was fussing with him.” Ed laughs. “Not sure why I did that at 6,000 feet—but that’s my personality. Anyway, we got a picture of me that looked like I was flying and used that as a model for that year’s Eddie Bear.”
The Eddie Bear has been dressed up in all sorts of occupations: a soccer player, a baseball player, a fireman, a football player, a chef, but they all have one thing in common. All Eddie Bears are a symbol of giving back to the greater community. And it’s not just the portion of each Eddie Bear’s sale that Furniture Fair donates to LLS, Ed also takes Eddie Bears out for “Read-It” Day, a fun excursion where Ed takes Eddie Bears to local schools and reads the classic children’s book Corduroy the Bear to kids, then gives each student a bear at the end. “The story takes place in a furniture store,” says Ed with a smile. “So it’s close to my heart.”
"There’s been so many good things that have come out of the Eddie Bear. It’s something I enjoy doing and it’s good for the community. I’m glad I came up with it."
Eddie Bears already have a long legacy. Ed can recall story after story of mothers bringing their homesick college students their Eddie Bear from childhood, schools who use Eddie Bears as rewards for scholastic achievements, people who have been terminally ill who have requested their Eddie Bear stay by their sides. “There’s been so many good things that have come out of the Eddie Bear. It’s something I enjoy doing and it’s good for the community. I’m glad I came up with it.”
Anyone wanting to see all 20 years of Eddie Bears may be in luck. There’s talk of putting together an exhibit of Eddie Bears Throughout the Years at Furniture Fair’s Fairfield location someday. But until that time comes, 20 years of Eddie Bears will be in safe keeping at Ed’s place. As for this year’s 20th Anniversary Edition Eddie Bear, dressed in a police uniform—they’ll be available starting Veteran’s Day. You can pick up your own Eddie Bear at any of the 10 Furniture Fair locations, either by spending $399 or more or by simply buying one for $29.95. A portion of every sale will be donated to the Lymphoma & Leukemia Society. Happy Holidays, from Furniture Fair!