Girls flock to American Girl store at Tysons

June 18, 2011

Thousands of starry-eyed girls clutching $100 18-inch dolls wandered through aisle upon aisle of pint-size outfits and shiny accessories in search of the perfect purchase Saturday. Moms and dads followed along behind them.

It was the grand opening of the American Girl store in Tysons Corner. And it was as exciting as a Justin Bieber sighting.

Erin Condon, 9, of Stevensville, Md., scored a miniature newspaper and a camera set for her doll Julia, who has been part of the family for five years.

“I love the cafe, too,” Erin said while enjoying a bowl of macaroni and cheese in the store’s bistro while Julia “munched” on miniature muffins at the dessert bar.

Families started camping outside the store as early as 2:30 p.m. Friday, a store spokeswoman said. By the time the doors opened at 9 a.m. Saturday, more than 700 people were in line, waiting for a look at the 23,000-square-foot store. One family from Thailand planned a vacation in the Washington area around the opening, store officials said.

Chelsea Neumann, 8, and her parents, Monica and Paul, left their Purcellville house at 4 a.m. They had to turn back to retrieve a forgotten doll but still landed a prime spot in line.

“We got here at 5 a.m. and had chairs, blankets, a backpack with snacks, two iPads, Nintendo DS, everything,” Monica Neumann said.

Wade M. Opland, vice president of retail at American Girl, said he expects 10,000 people to visit the store over the weekend. By Saturday afternoon, 6,000 people had shown up.

The 10th American Girl store features a hair salon (dolls only), a 110-seat bistro (dolls and people), and a station for making T-shirts (dolls and people). Opland said he expects the store at Tysons to draw families from 300 miles away. The next-closest store is in New York City.

Ariel Smith, 8, of Lancaster, Pa., and her parents spent Friday night at a hotel near the mall.

Ariel, who has braces, picked out braces for her doll, Arianna. The two wore matching flower-print dresses and waited patiently in line.

Her father, Todd, who runs a scrap-yard business, says they have spent $500 to $600 over the years on American Girl products.

“She earns it, though,” Todd Smith said. “She comes with me to work the cash register.”

American Girl has 10 historical dolls, whose lives span pre-European settlement America (meet Kaya, who comes with a porcupine quill necklace) to San Francisco in the 1970s (hello, Julie Albright).

There are also the Girl of the Year dolls and 52 My American Girl dolls, which come in different combinations of skin tone, eye color, face mold and hair color.

Namie Yamamoto, 12, brought Josefina Montoya, the only Latina historical character, to the store. She said that Josefina’s hair “looked demented” because the doll only recently came out of her box.

Namie’s mother, Alina, a native of Peru, said she uses the doll to teach her daughter about her heritage.

“I connect with Josefina’s history,” Alina said. “I grew up on a farm just like Josefina. We talk about the typical dress, the hardships, the customs. I think it’s good.”

For Chelsea Neumann and her two American Girl dolls, the trip was a success. She left with a doll-size bathtub, a little backpack and a tiny toy dog. Her dolls got some clothes and accessories too.

“I’m too embarrassed to say how much we spent — we blew it!” Monica Neumann said as her husband left to put the shopping bags in the car trunk.

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