Who would’ve guessed that toys you find at Borders, FAO Schwarz and Nordstrom come out of a warehouse in Forest Park? And who knew the company’s latest line is the brainchild of a former Beanie Babies designer – a woman who’s local, too.
Rocket USA, a 13-year presence on Van Buren Street, has been delivering offbeat lines of toys to retailers large and small for 13 years now, all the while headquartered in Forest Park. From retro metal toys to figurines of Homer Simpson to the Bam-Bam Obama Bop Bag, “some of the stuff is a bit out of the ordinary,” says Michael Perry, the Oak Parker who founded and owns the company.
Perry has a staff of eight running the operation in Forest Park, which is in 10,000 square feet of warehouse space that used to be a Tri-Star gymnastic training center. And there’s more than shipping and receiving here.
“We do all the design work, product development and sales,” says Cesar Vargas, vice president.
Rocket USA’s latest signature is a plush line puts cute animal designs in the playable shape of a ball. They’re called Lubies (pronounced LUH-bees).
Two years ago, Perry teamed up with fellow Oak Parker Joy Michel, an artist who was vice president of creative design at Ty Inc. She boasts the design of more than a thousand Beanie Babies. For Lubies, she found inspiration, she says, in her cat, Dahlia.
“She is half Burmese and half alley cat. So she’s a fat cat with a small head,” Michel notes.
“I didn’t want to do anything that someone has done before,” says Michel. Right now there are close to 35 Lubies design. The goal is 100.
“Lubies are our main thing right now,” Perry says, referring to a range of sizes and prices of $8.99 to $12.99 retail. Then there are the specialty Lubies.
Rocket USA has a license to distribute Major League Baseball Lubies. They produced Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox Lubies, which are designed as bears wearing the team logo. You can get Lubies for many other MLB teams, too. “The demographics then are not just for children, but for all baseball fans,” saysPerry. They’re now in the process of designing an NHL Lubies line.
The company is also experimenting with supersizing Lubies, planning to go as big as some with 24 inches in diameter. They’ll sell for about $200.
Locally, you can find Lubies and other Rocket USA toys at Schauer Hallmark on Madison Street in Forest Park, and at Fly Bird and Pumpkin Moon in Oak Park.
This Saturday, May 1, Rocket USA is planning a show-and-tell, opening its doors for the first time to locals beyond staff.
“People have been curious about what we did,” Vargas says.
“We have some products that we are winding down on and we wanted to let people know that we are in the neighborhood,” Perry says.
Doors will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1. The warehouse is at 7771 Van Buren.