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Teenie Beanies a big hit

May 27, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

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BeaniesTeenie Beanies a big hit

Brenda Burkett has six pies and four hamburgers from McDonald's in her freezer.

The Williamsport woman also has a complete set of the restaurant's coveted new Teenie Beanie Babies.

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Kids and collectors alike scooped up the toys with names like Bongo the Monkey and Zip the Cat as quickly as the fast-food company could serve them this Memorial Day weekend.

The toys were selling at the rate of 10,000 a day at six Hagerstown area stores, said owner Mark N. Levine.

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As the dust settled Tuesday, Levine estimated about 85 percent of the toys at his stores had been sold.

The promotion doubled his sales this weekend. Nationwide and locally, it topped the 1997 Teenie Beanie collection as the chain's most successful.

The Beanie madness wasn't totally unexpected, Levine said.

McDonald's bought twice as many - 180 million - of the bean bag critters this year and tried to limit the number of toys per person.

"Let's not forget. This is for the kids," he said.

Still, the animals sold faster than even Levine's wildest expectations.

Burkett waited in line for about 90 minutes on Monday at the Maugans Avenue store.

Levine said the phone never stopped ringing and workers began answering the phone, "Welcome to McDonald's" followed by which of the 12 styles they were currently selling.

The Maugans Avenue store was the busiest of his locations, probably because it is so close to Pennsylvania, where owners chose stricter rules for distributing the toys, he said.

Franchise owners had to decide whether to sell out more quickly and cope with long lines in a business that values speed or risk alienating customers by holding back the toys, he said.

Beanie Babies come free with a Happy Meal. In the Hagerstown area, collectors also can buy up to three for $1.99 each with the purchase of up to three food or drink items.

The tiny toys are a spinoff of larger Beanie Babies, which have been on the market about five years.

Burkett got caught up in the frenzy after selling them at her shop, Season's Country Collectibles in Martinsburg, W.Va.

She has started a collection for her 1-year-old granddaughter, Leanna Showe of Hagerstown.

Beanie Babies found for $5 to $7 in specialty shops can become like gold if that particular animal becomes popular or hard to find. Beanie Babies are selling as high as $5,200.

On the Internet on Tuesday, collectors were taking bids as high as $255 for the 1997 collection of 10 Teenie Beanie Babies. Some were already selling the 1998 set of 12.

The fun is in the hunt, collectors said.

"The charm is just to go from store to store and find them that way," Burkett said.

Glenn and Betty Rowe postponed a trip to Niagara Falls to continue their search for Peanut the Elephant, Zip the Cat and Waddle the Penguin.

They drove from Shippensburg, Pa., to Hagerstown on Tuesday looking in vain.

"I'm too old to get into this stuff, aren't I," said Glenn Rowe, 56.

Both he and his wife, who are semi-retired, enjoy the game of searching.

"It gives us something to do," he said.

Collectors can swap for their favorite Teenie Beanies at the McDonald's on Dual Highway Thursday evening or Sharpsburg Pike and Clear Spring on Monday.

Some people have trouble understanding the fascination.

Rena Cyphert of Morgantown, W.Va., watched in amazement Tuesday as her 7-year-old grandson pointed to and called the Teenie Beanie Babies by name.

"What a racket," she said.

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