Beanie Babies frenzy, fun yielded to greed, crime

August 31, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Perhaps inevitably, the fun of collecting and trading Beanie Babies gave way to greed, sharp dealing and crime.

Counterfeiting became a big enough business to attract the attention of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and result in several federal indictments. And there was at least one killing connected to the craze.

In October 1999, Jeffrey White, then 29, shot security guard Harry Simmons, 63, at a lumberyard in Elkins, W.Va, a small town where people used to line up at 4 a.m. outside the Hallmark store when a Beanie Babies shipment was due.

Police said that White, who later confessed to the crime, blamed Simmons for getting him fired from his job at the lumberyard. But the two also had a dispute over $150 and several hundred dollars' worth of Beanie Babies that Simmons lent White, purportedly to start a trading business.

Violence was rare during the craze, but tempers often flared.

David Marks, a Connecticut toy retailer, was early to spot Beanies' appeal and able to get large shipments when the fad reached its manic phase.

Truckloads of Beanies, 50,000 to a load, would arrive at his 2,600-square-foot shop, while hundreds of people lined up outside. He would hand shopping bags to customers as they entered and limit them to as many Beanies as could fit in a bag. Some collectors protested; others tried to get around the rule.

One day at the height of the mania, as Marks told the story, he got a visit from a Ty Inc. regional sales manager. The man took Marks to lunch, complimented him on the great business he was doing and then told him bluntly that if he wanted to keep the Beanies flowing, he should carry the rest of Ty's product line, which by then included a number of less-sought-after plush toys. The man said a $10,000 order would be a good start.

"I felt like the Mafia was leaning on me," Marks said. But he needed the Beanies, so he placed the order.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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