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It's hard to be Made in America

ELMA, N.Y. - When you stroll the aisles of the Made in America Store, you might notice a conspicuous absence. There is not a single item for sale that requires a battery or a plug. That is because no electronics meet the strict guidelines of an emporium that stocks only products 100 percent made in America.

Still, American-made goods abound  socks and hiking boots, plastic lawn furniture, flags and decals, beer and barbecue sauce, mops and sponges. Toilet paper.

There are three aisles of toys, non-electronic, that veer toward the nostalgic: playing cards, horseshoes, marbles and jacks, boomerangs, Slinkies, perhaps their best-selling item. Checkers and Chinese checkers. (Not the kind made in China.)

The Made in America Store is the brainchild of Mark Andol, 50, an energetic, mile-a-minute talker with silver-tinged, waved-back hair and a wispy mustache.

Andol, the third generation of a Greek immigrant family, was raised on American manufacturing. His father was an ironworker employed at the Ford stamping plant in nearby Buffalo and his mother made xylophone keys for a subcontractor of Fisher-Price, the toy company headquartered in nearby East Aurora.

Andol was frustrated that his welding company, which made metal parts for industry, kept losing contracts to cheaper Chinese competitors. So on a whim, in 2010, he rented a vacant automobile dealership to showcase American products.

"Sure, Mark. The world is fully of crazy people. Go for it," Andol recalls he was told.

Filling the cavernous building proved more difficult than Andol imagined. At first he carried only 50 products. He had set a standard higher than the Federal Trade Commission, requiring that the products be 100 percent U.S. made "right down to the glue in the packaging."

Andol was familiar with the certification procedures because he sometimes bid on military contracts, which give preference to U.S. suppliers under a 1941 law called the Berry amendment. He would pore over binders with letters certifying the origins of the components only to be crushed when he had to dump a product that did not make the cut.

"I was so excited to find tea from the United States because I'm a tea drinker, but then I found out the bags were made in Japan and I had to kick it out of the store," he said.

In homage to his mother's past making xylophone keys, Andol badly wanted to sell toys from Fisher-Price, which has its headquarters just two miles away.

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