SIX DECADES after Ed Durlacher and the Top Hands do-si-doed around the
country, his family still is selling the classic square-dance records
that created a company and put Ed and the boys into the country's
Two generations later, Educational Activities Inc. has hundreds of
titles, six buildings in Baldwin and last year sold 175,000 educational
records, cassettes, videos, compact discs and software programs. Annual
sales are said to be between $3 million and $6 million.
"I think he'd be very shocked at what we're doing, and I think he'd
be surprised at the size of the company," says Carol Harris Stern, Ed's
granddaughter and vice president of Educational Activities. "And I think
he'd be pleased that we still do sell his recordings."
Much of what Educational Activities sells is based on musical
recordings intended to help youngsters learn, whether the subject is
comprehension ("Let's Read Together"), coordination ("Fingerplay Fun!")
or communication ("Expressing Anger Constructively").
Most of the hundreds of titles in the company's catalog, Stern says,
"are programs created by teachers for teachers."
It is a challenging market, both because of its limited size - there
are only 52,000 schools in the country - and because of the complexity
of school budgets, which expand and contract. There also is great
competition within the schools over how the dollars will be divided
among such things as salaries, maintenance and basketballs.
Education had not been the intention of Durlacher, who formed the
square-dance band in the late 1930s. The Top Hands began touring and
making records now and then. In the early '40s, the Durlachers thought
about making and distributing their own recording, which they began
doing in the garage of their Freeport home.
The company incorporated in 1948 as Square Dance Associates. Its
label was Honor Your Partner Records.
As she grew up, Adele Durlacher, Carol's mother, helped out. And
when she married pharmacist Al Harris, he did as well.
Among the buyers of the hoedown music were teachers who used it in
physical education classes, but the breakthrough came in the early '60s,
when President John F. Kennedy made physical fitness a national goal and
movement music became the schoolhouse rage.
By 1964, a year after Durlacher's death, Adele and Al Harris were
full-time. They broadened the company's name to Educational Activities
Their biggest-selling creator, songwriter Hap Palmer, who has been
feeding early childhood material to the company since 1968, now has more
than 50 entries in the Educational Activities catalog.
Among them, for example, is the 1972 "Getting to Know Myself,"
which, according to the catalog, "covers awareness of body image and the
body's position in space . . . objects in relation to body planes, body
part identification, movements of the body, feelings and moods."
Twenty-two years after he recorded it, the album was reissued by
Educational Activities as a CD in 1994.
Al and Adele Harris moved the company out of the Freeport garage in
1963, buying the first of their buildings in Baldwin, a vacant
five-and-dime. Because of the need for warehouse space, by 1973 the
Harrises had bought five more buildings - among them Tudor Pub, the
Pink Canary soda fountain and a butcher store - and broke through walls
to connect them. The total is 20,000 square feet.
The granddaughter of a family business, Carol Harris Stern had been
part of Educational Activities, as she puts it, since she was born. She
became another full-timer in 1976 after graduating from the State
University at Binghamton.
Alan Stern, a freelance musical producer, arrived a year later to
help sort out a production problem and stayed on as an employee. Carol
Harris and Alan Stern were married two years later.
The force behind the company in its evolutionary years, his daughter
says, was Al Harris. "He really is the visionary of the company. He was
the one who said let's take it a step further, and every time we went
into a new area, it was his fingers on the pulse of the market. What's
coming up next?"
Al Harris, 72, and Adele Harris, 70, spend less time at Educational
Activities, and he says Carol Stern is now running the company, which
makes her chuckle. "At this point in our lives, he says he'd like to
retire, but I don't really believe that."
The Sterns, both 47, are both vice presidents of Educational
Activities but are involved on many fronts, as are its 25 employees. "We
don't worry too much about titles," Alan Stern says. "Most people here
do more than fit in one narrow job slot."
Forty percent of Educational Activities' products are for the early
childhood market. The majority go to teach older students, including
adults. Much of the company's products for high school and adult
programs are remedial. A hot new area is programs that help the
unemployed move from welfare to work.
Trade shows are the company's primary sales tool. Its 20
representatives appear at 150 trade shows annually. Alan Stern carries
the flag to about 20.
The content of the educational materials has remained consistent
over the years, but the delivery systems have changed greatly. Records
have almost disappeared, replaced by 4-tracks and 8-tracks, themselves
displaced by audiocassettes and then those eventually by compact discs.
Software is now a significant part of the company's future, and delivery
by Internet is a frequent topic of conversation.
Prices start at $11 for audiocassettes, but there also is the
three-video program called "Smoking's Not for Winners" for $219 and the
five-part "Biology Concepts Through Discovery" for $395.
This is not the consumer market, so the number of items sold is
smaller. It also is unlike the consumer market in that titles can stay
fresh forever, like Ed Durlacher's square-dance numbers, still selling
after 50 years.