For Beanies, not the end of the line

Collectibles: Hardly anyone thinks retirement means extinction for the popular plush animals.

September 02, 1999|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

Forget Y2K.

Get ready for Ty2K.

Ty Inc., manufacturers of the mushy plush animals known as Beanie Babies, wreaked their own millennial mayhem by announcing Tuesday that all current characters will be retired by year's end.

"The news is really a shot in the arm for the hobby," says Sharon Korbeck, editor of Toy Shop magazine. "This announcement is great for everyone."

Internet sites are exploding with rumors -- and Beanie bids. Collectors clamor for dolls to fill out their collections. People are afraid.

Afraid that Beanies will go the way of the dinosaur.

The secretive Oakbrook, Ill.,-based Ty Inc. declined to comment on the announcement. The ubiquitous beanbags have become coveted collectibles since introduced five years ago.

The suggested retail is $5 to $7. But in the thriving secondary market, where Beanie lovers snatch up discontinued babies everywhere from the Internet to flea markets, the cushy critters have been known to go for $1,000 and more.

Korbeck says the speculation about the extermination of the Beanie race is getting out of hand.

"All [the announcement] says is they are retiring all current Beanie Babies, which isn't really a bombshell," she says.

On Tuesday, the Ty Web site went black, until this announcement appeared: "VERY IMPORTANT NOTICE: On December 31, 1999 -- 11: 59 p.m. (CST) All Beanies will be retired including the above!" (The above being September's sparkling new lineup of Beansters.)

But what the announcement didn't say was whether the company will come up with new lines next year. Most likely, they will.

"Retiring" certain styles has been a continuing strategy of Ty Inc. Select Beanies are discontinued on an irregular basis, and a new crop appears about every three months. David Adler, purchasing director for Greetings & Readings in Towson, says this marketing method helps spark Beanie lust for less popular styles and keeps collectors' adrenalin flowing.

"The hunt They love the hunt," he says.

Yesterday, Beanie Baby business was booming at local specialty stores.

"This is the first time they've taken carte blanche and said the entire line of Beanie Babies would retire," Adler says. "Their [Ty's] whole thing is never to meet demand for their product. Everyone wants something they can't have."

Sharon Tufaro, co-owner of Shananigans in Roland Park, refuses to accept that this is indeed the end of Beaniedom.

"It's a marketing scheme," she says. "I guess it's to create more frenzy."

Shananigans saleswoman Mara Dudrow, who owns one of nearly every Beanie made, doesn't think Ty needs the extra push. "Beanies have been a frenzy since day one," she says.

Korbeck says that while Beanies are still popular, the fever pitch has cooled. McDonald's third shot at its Happy Meals featuring miniature Beanie Babies left a Beanie surplus, she says.

The Web site Absolutebeanies.com posts a Beanie Index which claims that in the past three months overall Beanie values have declined 15 percent and that they have declined 35.5 percent in the past year.

But the Beanies go marching on, even if Beanie appeal isn't what it used to be.

The September class includes Honks the Goose, Wallace the Bear, Slowpoke the Sloth, Sheets the Ghost, Ty 2K Bear and, perhaps most ominously, The End Bear a black bear.

"Does that mean the end of the millennium, or the end of the line?" asks Diana Lore, 49, who owns about 700 of the toys.

If Beanies are indeed going up in novelty smoke, Lore has sympathy for the hordes of devotees who have centered their lives on the amorphous trinkets.

"I am firmly convinced there's a virus in them," says the Baltimore resident. "Once you touch them, you get the virus. That's it."

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