Tie-in sales appear to be alive and well down in the Cabbage Patch.

While the Cabbage Patch Kids, made by Coleco, have been as scarce as beardless Santas this holiday season, other Coleco products have been widely available. These include items like the Ride-On, which is similar to the Big Wheel, and the toy carriages for Strawberry Shortcakes and Smurfs.

How was Coleco able to blanket the toy stores of America with everything but the dolls themselves?

Washington toy store buyers say it's because of the tie-in rule imposed by Coleco representatives at the February toy fair in New York, where manufacturers annually exhibit their goods and take orders from stores for the year.

Tie-in sales mean that a store owner has to agree to purchase a certain number of other products from a company to get the merchandise they really want. A Coleco official said yesterday that it isn't company policy to require tie-in sales but that such rules may have been imposed by Coleco wholesalers.

John Hall, toy buyer for Lowen's, 4814 Elm St., Bethesda, said the formula required him to buy Coleco's Ride-Ons, toy carriages and family action games to buy any Cabbage Patch dolls.

"If I bought 100 Coleco Ride-Ons, for example, I would be able to buy 200 assorted items of Cabbage Patch: 100 could be Cabbage Patch Kids, 50 could be Cabbage Patch Preemies, 25 could be Cabbage Patch Koosas and 25 could be Cabbage Patch Pinups," Hall said.

The result, he said, was that he "bought more Ride-Ons from Coleco this year than normal -- in order to get Cabbage Patch goods." Hall said that Coleco makes "good Ride-Ons, but so do Tonka and Empire and I like to have them. But I was locked into Coleco."

So were consumers who went shopping for such products for their children and found that their choices were limited to Coleco, he said.

Hall said he was annoyed that some other businesses haven't had to comply with the tie-in requirement. "I see Chevrolet and Coca-Cola giving away Cabbage Patch dolls, but did they have to buy Ride-Ons to get their Cabbage Patch products? I don't think so. I don't see any Ride-Ons in the Chevrolet showrooms."

Joy Miller, toy buyer for Sullivan's, 3412 Wisconsin Ave. NW, said she normally wouldn't have purchased any Coleco Ride-Ons "because we have a small store so we don't have much room for them, but we had to make room this year."

She said the Coleco representatives at the toy fair told her that she "had to support the line" of other Coleco products to get Cabbage Patch dolls. It wouldn't have been so difficult to do that, she said, if the formula had allowed her to count her purchases of Coleco snow goods, plastic sleds and toboggans, toward Cabbage Patch purchases.

"But the only things they would count were Ride-Ons, family action games and carriages," Miller said.

Miller and Hall said the tie-in requirement added a new dimension to the toy business. "Coleco has never done this before," said Miller. "And with most companies, when there is any requirement like this, it is kind of veiled. But they Coleco were overt."

Coleco Executive Vice President Morton Handel said tie-in sales are illegal and "it is not our business practice to force tie-in sales." However, he said, "it is conceivable that wholesalers for Coleco imposed those rules . . . . We don't exercise control over how our wholesalers sell our merchandise."

Meantime, Hall said he has been told that there will be a new formula for 1985 for Coleco products and he is worried that it will be even more restrictive.