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Teddy Bear Tours Take Stuffed Pals to City Hot Spots

By Patty Wetli | December 9, 2013 8:25am
 Stephen Spargur's Chicago Teddy Bear Tours photographs customers' teddy bears at Chicago's top tourist destinations.
Stephen Spargur's Chicago Teddy Bear Tours photographs customers' teddy bears at Chicago's top tourist destinations.
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Facebook/Chicago Teddy Bear Tours

NORTH CENTER — Stephen Spargur leads an interesting double life: full-time general contractor, part-time teddy bear wrangler.

As the owner of Punch Construction, Spargur specializes in home remodeling and custom carpentry projects. As the entrepreneur behind Chicago Teddy Bear Tours, he makes the rounds of the city's most identifiable landmarks with cuddly stuffed animals in tow.

"It's probably slightly conflicting, the pickup truck guy with a bunch of teddy bears in the side seat," the North Center resident said.

So ... teddy bear tours.

Yep, they're exactly what they sound like: Customers ship their teddy bears to Spargur, who then photographs the furballs visiting popular tourist spots in Chicago. The bears are returned to their owners with a CD chronicling their adventures in the Windy City.

"It could be for people who collect teddy bears, people who can't afford to come to Chicago or people who used to live here," said Spargur, who cops to having a small collection of vintage bears, including his own childhood companion. "It's kind of out of a love of the city and a love of teddy bears."

The idea is not original to Spargur — similar services exist in Japan, Paris and Berlin. He himself latched onto the concept after hearing a story on the radio about a woman who provides teddy bear tours of the United Kingdom.

"I immediately bought a bunch of domain names," he said. "I just thought it was so unique, particularly in Chicago — there are so many things for people to do."

Spargur offers two basic packages: the sports fan tour, which takes the bears to Soldier Field (where they might as well fill in on the defensive line) and the United Center, among other highlights; and the Chicago sightseeing tour, which includes stops at the Bean and Art Institute.

Because no tour of Chicago would be complete without sampling some of city's famed cuisine, Spargur also transports the bears to Byron's Hotdogs or the Wiener's Circle.

The Chicago-style dog is "kind of a quintessential element of the Chicago lifestyle," Spargur said.

To clear up a frequently asked question, the bears are not Photoshopped into existing vistas. Spargur and a small handful of helpers, including his wife, take the bears on a bona fide tour of the city, drawing nary a curious glance.

Teddy Bear Tours operates year-round. If a customer books a tour in February, photos will reflect the weather.

"We take photos if it's 60 degrees or 5 degrees," Spargur said.

Of the two tours he's conducted thus far — the business launched just a month ago — Spargur has quickly learned to get out and about in the early morning.

"Afternoon is brutal to get shots without a lot of people in them," he said.

Reaction to Teddy Bear Tours has ranged from positive — "Most people say it's an awesome idea," Spargur said — to bewildered.

When he recently announced his new sideline via email to business associates and distant acquaintances, the response wasn't quite what Spargur expected.

"People thought it was spam," he said. "People thought my email had been hacked."

Cost is $99 for a single tour or $159 for the combined sports/sightseeing package. Bears can be bought for $16.99. The deadline to sign up for a Teddy Bear Tour and get your bear back by Christmas is Dec. 13.