Bear Country on display; Berenstain Bears collection open to public at Sweet Reads

Published 10:35 am Monday, August 15, 2016

On Saturday, Bradley Mariska said goodbye to his Berenstain Bears collection — at least for a year.

A grand opening was held for the collection to be turned into an exhibit at Sweet Reads on Saturday morning. Mariska’s collection will remain for a year at Sweet Reads.

The event included an early, invite-only, opening where Mariska and Phil Gonzales, a podcaster with the podcast Deep in Bear Country, recorded a special live episode in the back of the business.

“I’ve had a lot of experience reading the Berenstain Bears books,” quipped Gonzales, talking about his two children, as he introduced himself Saturday.

The exhibit, which is waiting to officially be recognized as the largest collection of Berenstain Bears memorabilia by the Guinness Book of World Records, is largely kept in a small, walk-in room in the back to the store, with some items floating outside the room on shelves, cabinets or anywhere there is room.

About 30 people attended for the podcast with a small line waiting outside the bookstore to open at 11 a.m. when the collection was officially unveiled to the public.

“It’s been really fun,” Mariska said after the podcast. “There’s been a lot of great word of mouth about this collection.”

Mariska said having the collection downtown makes sense just for the curiosity and novelty of it, comparing it to the Spam Museum across the street. For Mariska, it just seemed a natural fit and gives those visiting the museum another chance to see something different.

Before the podcast, Gonzales introduced himself to the group of people tightly packed into the back of Sweet Reads, explaining his own connection to Berenstain Bears and what the group might expect.

During his introduction he also said his meeting with Mariska and how their first contact came.

Gonzales explained that not long after starting the podcast he received an email from Mariska who described having the largest collection of Berenstain Bears memorabilia.

“I thought that was a little unsettling and weird,” Gonzales said with a laugh. “I kind of forgot about that message for a while.”

The podcast then went into recording with the two talking all things Berenstain Bears before the doors opened for the day.

Mariska conceded it was strange not having the collection under his own roof.

“I’ve done a little bit of searching for new items, and you don’t know how many times you go into that room,” he said. “I’ve had to call Lisa (Deyo) a couple times, ‘Hey, can you go in an take a picture of this item.’”

Mariska said that while the collection is guaranteed for a year, he wasn’t sure where exactly things would go from there.

“If it’s successful and I still don’t have room in my home, we might extend the exhibit,” he said. “But it’s definitely going to be here for the next year.”