Some shoppers around Washington were so desperate to buy a Cabbage Patch Kids doll yesterday that they camped out in front of Zayre department stores, offered scalper prices for already purchased dolls, tried to bribe store employes and snatched dolls from other customers' shopping carts.
The stampede is on for this Christmas' hottest toy.
At the Zayre store in Tysons Corner, a man bought two of the moon-faced cloth dolls on sale for $17.99 each from the regular price of $21.99, according to a sales clerk, then refused to leave the store for fear of being mobbed by empty-handed people who had waited in line for hours outside the store but hadn't been quick enough to purchase one of the 150 dolls in stock.
"A woman had two dolls in her shopping cart," said clerk Tammy Frey. "She looked away for a second and some person--I don't know whether it was a man or woman--grabbed the dolls out of the cart."
Frey said a store security guard overheard a man offer $50 to a woman customer for her just-purchased Cabbage Patch Kid doll, which comes with birth certificate, adoption papers, disposable diaper, baby clothes, shoes, detailed fingers and toes, bellybutton and individual facial features shaped by computer.
The Zayre store in Laurel was open Saturday until 11 p.m. but the dolls weren't set to go on sale until yesterday morning. Some customers rushed in before closing time to ask about the dolls, according to a store employe, who declined to identify herself. "A couple of people who were working on the floor said they were offered money by customers for one of the dolls," she said.
The dolls were kept "under lock and key," the employe said, and placed on display yesterday morning shortly before the sale began at 10 a.m. Some customers said they had camped in front of the store entrance at 4 a.m. to make sure they bought one of the 200-plus dolls in the Laurel store. The store manager, the employe said, explained to the waiting crowd, which extended through the parking lot, that tickets would be distributed to people at the front of the line, so the longest-waiting customers would have the greatest chance to purchase a doll. Before the doors opened, police were called to ensure order but had no trouble.
At the Hillandale store in Silver Spring, customers who crowded outside the entrance before opening were "like animals, pushing and shoving and knocking each other down," according to a store employe.
"I got run over by a shopping basket as soon as I opened the door," said the employe, who declined to identify himself. "The basket ran over my toes and hit me in the leg. I had opened the door wide, and I thought I was out of the way."
The dolls were displayed, the employe said, "up front so the crowd wouldn't destroy the whole store. People just grabbed for dolls but they were trying to be picky, too. After a while the shoppers got friendlier. They would offer to exchange their doll with another customer if they didn't have the style they wanted. They'd say, 'I've got a blond doll and I'll exchange it for a bald one.' "
In other cities across the nation, the dolls have triggered pandemonium. Shoppers in a crowd of 150 knocked down a 75-year-old man who had been waiting at a Jefferson Ward store in North Miami Beach, Fla., on Thursday, and police were called in to restore order. The store manager said, "People were pressing against the glass. People were crying. They were screaming, 'Let me in. Let me in.' "
When 40 dolls went on sale last month at a Child World store in Bergen County, N.J., a pregnant woman was trampled in the stampede, the Bergen Record reported.
Yesterday in Concord, N.H., more than 300 shoppers waited in the wind and cold for as long as five hours to buy the dolls. Across the nation, K mart and Montgomery Ward stores are selling out as fast as they get them. A Toys R Us representative said half the chain's calls are for the dolls.
Coleco Industries Inc. of West Hartford, Conn., the manufacturer, has increased production at its plants in Asia and expects to ship more than 2 million dolls by the year's end, according to spokeswoman Barbara Wruck. Even so, demand will outstrip the supply, she said.
Morton Handel, a Coleco vice president, said the dolls aren't beautiful but they "have a vulnerable look and come with their arms spread open so your first impulse is to pick one up and hug it."
"The legend of the Cabbage Kids," says Coleco spokeswoman Theresa Reali, "is that they need a special kind of love and someone special to adopt them."
Rick Tucker, the division manager of Zayre's Wheaton store, said a new shipment of about 200 dolls would arrive in about two weeks. "We're not going to advertise next time," he said. "We'll just put them up real casual and hope people will see them as they go by."