By Carol Tannenhauser
Alice Bergman, an early feminist, civil rights activist, and founder of the iconic Upper West Side toy store, West Side Kids, died peacefully on Saturday morning, her daughter Jennifer Bergman informed the community in an email. The cause was pneumonia. Alice was 86.
“Friday, she had a good day,” Jennifer wrote. “She spoke to friends on the phone, spent time with each of us and talked about her goals. Both Les [Jen’s younger sister] and I were by her side when she died. Her body was so fragile, but her mind and spirit were strong and fierce.”
Those words seemed to define Alice Bergman, who arrived on the Upper West Side in 1961. In 1971, she started a handmade toy company, called Toys for All Children, eschewing the then-standard blond, blue-eyed, male-dominated version of reality for a more ethnically diverse, non-sexist one.
“She made an African-American, woman-doctor puppet – in 1971!” Jennifer exulted. “She was way ahead of her time.”
In 1981, she opened West Side Kids.
“I haven’t really changed very much about the store since she retired in 2014,” Jennifer said. And why should she?
It is a beautiful, old space – brightly painted, covered from polished-wood floor to painted-tin ceiling with shelves and stacks of toys and books. (There’s even a copy of the Constitution!)
“My mother’s philosophy about toys was very strong,” Jennifer told WSR in an earlier interview. “Play is a child’s work, and toys are the tools for that work. You need the correct tools to grow into a creative, interesting adult.”