June 29, 1998
Beanie Babies attract crowd at Woodinville gift stores
by Andrew Walgamott
WOODINVILLE--Beanie Baby mania descended on a Woodinville gift store earlier in June and again last Thursday morning at another gift store after word got out that a shipment of over 100 of the small dolls had come in.
"You thought Windows 98 was a big deal, you should see this," said one woman about half-way down the line of 150 or so grown men and women, children and shady-looking characters gathered at From The Heart hours before the store even opened. On June 6th, a similar line was seen at Promises to Keep.
From the Heart's sign said it all. "Yes, Beanie Babies are in." Fifty-three "Erin Bears" and 60 "Princess Bears" would be available at 10 a.m.
But with store rules saying only one bear per family, those who came late and took up positions at the end of the line, like Michele Rotunno of Snohomish, probably didn't have much chance of scoring. Still, she was hopeful.
"I'm optimistic, not sick and crazed," Rotunno said.
But a woman in front of her suggested headlines such as "Nuts!" and "Insanity!" for the event.
For all intents and purposes both bears are the exact same squirrel-sized, four-legged doll that's filled with beans or other material.
Erin, which came out for St. Patricks Day, has a coat of green fur with a shamrock embroidered on her heart. Princess, named after Princess Diana, is purple and has a rose over her heart. They are the latest in a line of more than 200 such small, plush toys manufactured by Ty, Incorporated.
Still, the simplicity of the design didn't matter to the crowd outside the doors.
"They're cute," said Emily Fife, 17. She and Collen Buzzard, bundled in sleeping bags, were among the first in line.
"They're better than Barbie," said another.
Beanie Babies attract a strange group, all seemingly aware of their mania. They break down into three basic subspecies: Homo desperatus parentus trying to buy a baby for their kids, collectorus and dealerus.
Yes, dealers. Beanie Baby aren't like milk or gas, things you can find everyday. According to the webpage www.beaniephenomenon.com, Ty said retailers would only be allowed to sell newly released babies. Shipments come out in spurts from the factory to stores here and there. Due to their relative scarcity, they are hot items.
"There are Beanie Baby dealers," said Megan Flaherty, 11. "They buy them for $5 and sell them for $100." Flaherty, Marina Mcleod and Amy Norris all had their eyes set on Erin Bear.
At the head of the line was Toki Knapp, a burly 31-year-old from Everett with a tattoo on his left calf.
He said he has collected over 100 for his three daughters and that he'd been at the store since 9 p.m. the night before.
But others said he was a dealer, and that he'd been involved in a line-cutting fracas earlier. Police were alerted.
"It's bear mania, it doesn't bring out the best in people," said Kathy Jackson, a Kenmore resident.
Beanies first appeared in 1993. For store-owner Marsha Whiteman, the dolls are a mixed blessing.
"They're our most wonderful line in the store, and the one with the most headaches," Whiteman said. "We carried them before they were a craze. People just walked by them then." The craze built when McDonald's included them in Happy Meals.
Cathy Wingert of Kirkland is a serious collector. Outside the store since 2:45 a.m. that morning, she says she has about 420. She said she calls about 30 stores a day to find out if they have any of the dolls. Whiteman says her clerks handle about 100 calls a day alone on Beanies.
"My husband keeps telling me they're taking over and he's right," Wingert said. "But they're fun."
Some in line told stories of baby-crazed people following UPS delivery trucks, and others used words like "bean-a-holic," "investment," and "college tuition" to explain their addiction.
Kathyrn Rich, a Bothell resident, says dinosaur babies go for $900 and wise owls sell for $500 on the Internet.
"And that's why people have to stand in line to get their child a Beanie Baby," Rich said.
Mark Jessup, a former Woodinville City Councilman, faced a dilemma. He was supposedly the 102nd person in line which meant he probably would be able to buy a doll. But both his step-son and daughter wanted their own. He hoped to work something out between them.
"When I'm really old, I can say I stood in gas lines and Beanie Baby lines," Jessup said with a laugh.