The chance to buy treasured 'friend' Fad: A Dundalk store holds a lottery so children and parents have an opportunity to buy Beanie Babies, the popular toy and collectors' item.

August 09, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Robert Triplett, 6, dipped his arm into a brown paper bag filled with little slips of pink paper, hoping to pull out a winner. The Dundalk boy unfolded it quickly, thrilled to read the two words sealing his victory: "Beanie Baby."

"Yeah! Whoooooo!" Robert yelled as he jumped up and down, arms pumping. "I won!"

There was exultation and disappointment at Drug City Pharmacy in Dundalk yesterday morning, where Robert and about 300 people waited outside for the chance to be first in line to buy the popular Beanie Baby toys.

For the last month, the 46-year-old store has been holding a Saturday morning "lottery" designed to give customers a chance to buy the toys, which sell from $6 for new Beanie Babies to $50 for the most-coveted ones.

Those who pull a winning ticket are among the first to enter the store. The less fortunate must go to the back of the line and try again, but everyone gets to buy something, said Mark Lichtman, the store's co-owner.

Lichtman said the store wanted to prevent secondary Beanie dealers -- those who buy the toys and resell them for a profit -- from hoarding the Beanie Babies and shutting out the families and children who collect them.

"We really didn't want the dealers to get to them first," Lichtman said. "It keeps it organized. I can't have 100 people trying to push and get in front."

Beanie Babies are the creation of the Oakbrook, Ill.-based Ty Inc., and they have taken children and adults by storm.

The small, stuffed animals come with heart-shaped tags bearing names such as "Whisper" (a reindeer), "Nuts" (a squirrel) and "Web" (a spider) and birth dates. Ty has retired many of the toys, driving up their popularity and asking price.

'Worth a fortune'

"It's supply and demand," Lichtman said. " 'Spot' the dog is worth a fortune."

Though Ty could not be reached to comment on its sales, its official Web site (www.ty.com) had posted almost 2 billion hits as Friday.

Nationally and regionally, Beanie Baby fans have gone to great lengths to get the toys.

At Roland Park's Shananigans Specialty Toy Shop, customers have called from as far as New England, asking to have them shipped, said employee Becki Crutchfield.

On Aug. 1, people pitched tents in front of Flights of Fancy in Frederick, hoping to be first in line when the doors opened the next day. A line of 300 people had formed the next day.

"They brought cell phones so they could order pizzas and drinks," said Jerry Kray, co-owner of the gift shop and boutique. "The kids were ecstatic. It was like they had been to a rock concert."

At Drug City, children, teen-agers, parents and grandparents began assembling before 8: 30 a.m. yesterday, though the lottery didn't begin until 10 a.m. By 9: 45 a.m., the line stretched past the side of the building.

Heather Hall, an 8-year-old who woke her mother at 6 a.m. so they could get in line early, was lucky: The Essex girl won a free "Ebony" the cat -- another stuffed Ty creation from the "Attic Treasure" collection -- and a winning ticket.

"I'm getting the anteater," Heather decided.

Canton couple Joe and Sharon Long came early, hoping to get some Beanie Babies to give as Christmas gifts to their nieces and nephews. Sharon Long, a 42-year-old purchasing agent for an air-conditioning company, said she has bought 50 Baby Beanies, the most expensive being "Fortune," a panda bear that cost $24.

"It's a fad," said her husband, a 45-year-old truck driver who compared it to the Cabbage Patch Kids frenzy of the 1980s. "It's going to die out."

"No, this is bigger because they've got the books and the trading cards," Long countered. "I made him come. I said, 'Maybe if I don't draw a ticket, you will.' "

Betty Delottinville of Dundalk started collecting the toys about a year ago to give to her 11-month-old granddaughter, Breanna.

"They have some cute ones," she said. "The names are also cute, like 'Chocolate' the moose."

Overzealous adults

Delottinville said she preferred Drug City's lottery method to the first-come, first-served system that has led to hostility elsewhere. At another shop, Delottinville saw adults plucking Beanie Babies out of the arms of a child.

"She was standing there screaming and nobody was doing anything," Delottinville said. "It was a shame."

Customers and toy sellers say some overzealous adults have taken a hobby meant for children and turned it into a cutthroat competition. With retired Beanies going for hundreds of dollars, the stakes are high, they say.

"I think this little creature started out as children using these as a friend," said Janet Koerner, executive director of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association in Des Moines, Iowa. "Somewhere along this, adults got involved. Then we came onto this collectible."

'Caught off-guard'

Kray, co-owner of the Frederick shop, agreed.

"It was never meant to take off like this. They [Ty] were totally caught off-guard," he said. "A part of me is really sorry that the parents got so involved, because the kids are kind of backing away from it now."

"The adults have made it valuable. They're mostly responsible for the secondhand dealing," Crutchfield said. "They've also been the most vicious of the customers. Nothing will ever please them. We've been cursed out many a time."

But the mood seemed light -- and hectic -- at Drug City, where young Robert Triplett waited in another crowded line at the cash register to buy "Jabber" the parrot with his grandmother Gloria Morris in tow.

"You can play with them," Robert said, summing up his fascination with Beanie Babies. "They're my friends and stuff."

Still, experts admit they are puzzled by the seemingly endless love affair with the toys.

"We were so sure that last Christmas was kind of going to be the end of it," Kray said. "There's no sign of the end of it."

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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