Local business owner carves out niche making toys, games through woodworking expertise

·2 min read

Dec. 6—A factory supplying toys and games to people young and old is in high gear as the holiday season approaches.

Dean Helfer Jr., who runs Channel Craft in Charleroi, said the 40 craftsmen and women have been working extra hours since June to catch up on a backlog of orders. In exchange, they've received bonus days off and other incentives to keep going for the home stretch.

"Our employees are a big part of our history and our future," he said.

Helfer visited Westmoreland Historical Society at Hannastown on Sunday to discuss his start in the wooden toy-making business and success since. A Butler County native, Helfer said he realized in college at West Virginia University that he could build a business by making wooden boomerangs.

"I was able to craft boomerangs on my grandfather's woodworking equipment," he said.

He started in 1983, driving thousands of miles to peddle the items at shows across the country. With a $10,000 loan, he was able to start purchasing materials and packaging for the boomerangs. Channel Craft eventually established a factory and began taking on other crafters' toys and puzzles, such as whistles and yo-yos, as a distributor. He also got museums, parks and associations on board to carry the items.

"We have historic associations all over the country that promote their site, their experiences with our products," he said.

Those who attended his discussion received playthings produced and distributed by Channel Craft. Education and interpretation manager Pam Curtin said Helfer's discussion was in conjunction with an exhibit on woodworking history that runs through 2022. The exhibit details the history of how wood was used to create homes and other items, such as chairs and furniture.

The society is planning more events associated with the exhibit, she said.

With many toys and games being manufactured overseas, Helfer's operation is different. It focuses on games of a bygone era, ones that don't require cellphones or computers to play, he said. The boomerangs have evolved over the decades, now with a glow-in-the-dark one available.

"We've built our place in the gift industry on quality of product," he said.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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