Katherine Van Hart yesterday became one of the first walking wounded in the battle for this year's hottest toy.
Transformers -- the metal cars, planes, guns and other objects that convert to robots -- transformed Van Hart's thinking about the holiday spirit and, adding injury to insult, sent her to the hospital.
Shortly after the Bradlee's Store in Fairfax City opened yesterday, Van Hart, 27, said, she was knocked to the ground and stampeded by a mob of shoppers lured to the store by a fresh shipment of the toys. She was taken to Fairfax Hospital where she was treated for a sprained ankle and released.
"This is not my idea of the way people should act at Christmastime. People should be more considerate and caring, especially this time of year," she said. "People were so wrapped up in getting their toys."
Transformers, manufactured by Hasbro Industries Inc., and rival similar toys called GoBots, developed by the Tonka Corp., have become rare Christmas commodities ever since children developed as great an obsession with them as they did with Cabbage Patch Kids last year. The result is that most stores in the Washington area have been running out of Transformers shortly after stocking their shelves.
Bradlee's, located on Rte. 50, advertised on Saturday that a new batch of Transformers ranging in price from $8.88 to $14.88 would be available yesterday, according to John Groux, the store's sales manager. By 10 a.m. about 100 customers had lined up in front of the store, he said, ready for whatever sprinting and snatching might be required.
"There's always been a rush for key items at Christmas, but I've never seen anything quite like this," Groux said.
Van Hart, however, was there to buy duck-shaped bookends. She sauntered toward the appropriate aisle when, suddenly, "Next thing I knew I was on the ground and people were running over me. . . . I thought for sure I was going to get killed."
Meanwhile, her friend, Susan Guido, who said she had searched for Transformers at five area department stores, made a last-chance dash for the Bradlee's supply.
"Too many people were going one way, so I went the other way and cut across," Guido said. By the time she arrived, the popular Autobot variety -- cars that turn into robots -- had evaporated, and Guido was left madly grabbing for the less desirable radio versions. Each customer was limited to three of the 288 Transformers.
"I was compressed, I couldn't move," she said. So, in her paralysis, Guido decided to help others caught in the Transformer throng by "throwing radio Transformers to those who could not get close to the aisle." She distributed about five that way.
For 9-year-old Adam Koplan, who is small enough to have carved his way through the crowd, the episode destroyed illusions about the generosity of Christmas celebrators.
"I didn't think adults behaved that way," he said. "You had Transformers in your hand and . . . people bigger than you were grabbing them." Koplan managed to come away with three.
Van Hart, the only shopper injured yesterday, said that after the fall she couldn't crawl because the throbbing pain in her ankle kept her from getting up on her hands and knees. So, using her elbows, she snaked her way toward safety in the clothes department nearby.
The episode has killed Van Hart's dancing ambitions for this holiday. The prospect of reading at home instead does not enchant her either. "It would have been nicer if I'd gotten the bookends," she said.
Groux said a set of bookends has been set aside for her.