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Remembering when Beanie Babies were all the rage in Petaluma

TWENTY YEARS AGO

Rhonda Sharp thought it was just another relaxing time at the manicurist’s until a wild-eyed woman rushed in and gasped, “There’s a new shipment of Beanie Babies at Hallmark!”

The manicurist grabbed her keys and raced out the door. “I’ll be right back,” she called out, leaving Sharp’s nails in the dryer.

Is someone you know infected with Beanie Baby-itis? Does your best friend call around town in Fridays to see if a new shipment has come in so she can stand in line the next day to buy one? Does you sister cruise the internet hourly, looking for the elusive Tabasco the Bull? Has you child had a Baby snatched out of her hands by a pillaging raider, er, adult collector?

Does your mother’s back seat reek from the Happy Meals flung there as she gunned her engine from McDonald’s to McDonald’s, in pursuit of all 10 of Mickey D’s Teeny Beanie Babies?

Yup, those are the symptoms all right! Not only is there no cure, these fevered fans are perfectly happy to be infected.

Petaluman Diane Harvey and her daughters, Sarah, 11, and Katie, 4, own 160. They’ve been collecting them since Christmas.

“I just think they’re really cute,” says Sarah, a La Tercera School 6th-grader whose room is decorated in Early Beanie Baby.

“My daughters play with them, do plays, everything,” says Linda Thomason, whose daughters Shala, 91/2, and Katie, almost 8, have oodles of the perky pets. Pondering the expense of purchasing so many Beanies – generally about $5 apiece – Thomason says, “We’ve stretched it out. It’s our little treat. The money could have gone somewhere else, but we’re getting so much pleasure. It’s brought us closer together in a fun way.

“Besides,” she adds, “they’re harmless, they’re fun, and you don’t have to clean up after them.”

(Written by Katie Watts, Friday, August 29, 1997, Argus-Courier)

Not since the great Dutch “Tulip Mania” craze of the early 1600s had so many people become so desperate to get their hands on bright, colorful inanimate objects. Call it the Great Beanie Baby Mania of 1997, when kids and adults alike, all over the country, became obsessed with collecting little bean-stuffed animals with adorable names. Produced by Ty Warner, Inc., the floppy little toys, the first nine of which (Legs the Frog, Squealer the Pig, Spot the Dog, Flash the Dolphin, Splash the Whale, Chocolate the Moose, Patti the Platypus, Brownie the Bear, and Pinchers the Lobsters) were first released in 1993, and were initially not widely popular.

Then, suddenly, beanies became curiously popular in Chicago, with many stores selling out and placing emergency orders. Within weeks, the craze began spreading to other cities.

The fad struck Petaluma as hard as it did elsewhere in the U.S. (see sidebar for excerpt of Argus-Courier article from this week in 1997), with local parents and children lining up outside stores every time a new shipment of the tiny toys was delivered.

Local Beanie Baby hot spots included Country Clutter (no longer in business), on C Street, and Ideal Stationery (also long gone) in the Plaza Shopping Center.

The craze lasted for over a year.

“I was one of the biggest secondary dealers of Beanie Babies in the area,” recalls Steve Newman. “We put on a lot of Beanie Baby shows. We secondary dealers were hated by the stores that sold them. Some store owners came to the shows, took our pictures, and instructed their employees not to sell to us.” Adds Newman, “I had my own picture taped to the back of a few store counters.”

Newman says he once witnessed “two older gentlemen” having a shoving match over the last of a certain bear. That’s just one of many stories of people driven to violence over Beanie Babies. For those in the business, it was just more evidence of how popular the toys once were.

“I made a lot of money selling them,” Newman says.

As for the kids, some determined (and well-bankrolled) youngsters eventually amassed hundreds of the things. Curiously though, Beanie Babies’ appeal was more than just the creatures’ appealing design and cute names. Kids were infected with the idea of “collecting” as an investment, encouraged NOT to remove the name tags, or even PLAY with the beanies, assuring that they’d be worth more in the future if they simply “kept them.”

“I had over 50, all individually wrapped up and stored in my grandma’s garage, in bins, for years,” says Katelynn Goldberg. “I’m talking bears, cats, dogs, sea life, birds, those tiny beanie babies from McDonald’s, and even some zodiac critters.

Goldberg, now 28, currently works for a business that sends Behavior Technicians to provide Applied Behavior Analysis therapy to children with autism.

“I decided that my Beanie Babies were ready for a new home with these kids,” she says. “It makes my heart happy these kids get to have some fun with all the different plush critters.”

Technically, Goldberg did not give away ALL of her beanies.

“I still have my hedgehog, named California,” she says. Noting that real hedgehogs are illegal in California, she adds, “Can’t take this one away from me!”

TWENTY YEARS AGO

Rhonda Sharp thought it was just another relaxing time at the manicurist’s until a wild-eyed woman rushed in and gasped, “There’s a new shipment of Beanie Babies at Hallmark!”

The manicurist grabbed her keys and raced out the door. “I’ll be right back,” she called out, leaving Sharp’s nails in the dryer.

Is someone you know infected with Beanie Baby-itis? Does your best friend call around town in Fridays to see if a new shipment has come in so she can stand in line the next day to buy one? Does you sister cruise the internet hourly, looking for the elusive Tabasco the Bull? Has you child had a Baby snatched out of her hands by a pillaging raider, er, adult collector?

Does your mother’s back seat reek from the Happy Meals flung there as she gunned her engine from McDonald’s to McDonald’s, in pursuit of all 10 of Mickey D’s Teeny Beanie Babies?

Yup, those are the symptoms all right! Not only is there no cure, these fevered fans are perfectly happy to be infected.

Petaluman Diane Harvey and her daughters, Sarah, 11, and Katie, 4, own 160. They’ve been collecting them since Christmas.

“I just think they’re really cute,” says Sarah, a La Tercera School 6th-grader whose room is decorated in Early Beanie Baby.

“My daughters play with them, do plays, everything,” says Linda Thomason, whose daughters Shala, 91/2, and Katie, almost 8, have oodles of the perky pets. Pondering the expense of purchasing so many Beanies – generally about $5 apiece – Thomason says, “We’ve stretched it out. It’s our little treat. The money could have gone somewhere else, but we’re getting so much pleasure. It’s brought us closer together in a fun way.

“Besides,” she adds, “they’re harmless, they’re fun, and you don’t have to clean up after them.”

(Written by Katie Watts, Friday, August 29, 1997, Argus-Courier)

Like Goldberg, many former Beanie collectors have chosen to redistribute their once-prized critters. Newman eventually donated many of his unsold Beanies to Sleep Train, to give to foster kids during the holidays. Petaluman Chloe Lynn donated hers to a relief effort in Africa, the beanies packaged up in emergency kits distributed to families in crisis situations. Julie Thompson, on a visit to Mexico, filled an ice chest with old beanie babies, and handed them out to children in the village.

“They were so excited,” Thompson says.

Sadly, though a handful of very rare beanies are currently worth a fortune, the vast majority of them aren’t currently worth the five dollars apiece that kids once paid for them.

Recalls Marissa Crespo, “My Beanie Baby collection was my pride and joy. All through the ’90s, I made sure the tags stayed pristine, and the babies stayed untouched. I had big plans for the money I was guaranteed to make in the future.”

Eventually, when that rich promise failed to come true, Crespo decided to donate her Beanies to a thrift store.

“I took a big box of my perfect Beanie Babies over to the Goodwill on Lakeville,” she says. “They literally refused to take my Beanie Babies! So I went inside and gave the whole box to the first family with small kids I saw in the store.”

Some collectors, however, never could force themselves to part with their prized possessions.

“I still have over 300 beanie babies,” says Jessica Wendt. “One year, for Christmas, my dad surprised me, and hid beanie babies around the house with little clues. Everyone had to have them. My friends and I would stand for hours with my dad trying to get the newest beanie baby and they would literally be sold out in minutes. But if you didn’t have the newest one, you just weren’t cool.”

(Email David at david.templeton@arguscourier.com)