‘Beanie’ mania sweeping district

They’re in high demand in the States but the rage for Beanie Babies is swelling over the border into Rainy River District–and it’s bringing in big bucks for the two Fort Frances businesses who sell the stuffed toys.
In just 30 minutes Monday afternoon at Tammi’s Flower Garden on Scott Street, four groups came in on the quest for a new Beanie Baby, trademarked by Ty, with two others calling from the U.S. to see what was in stock there.
Between noon and 3:30 p.m., the store sold two “Erin” bears, a green bear with a clover leaf over its heart. But before they could buy the rare bear, the customers also had to get four regular-line ones (that’s their policy if someone wants to buy one of the $69.95 bears).
No one flinched at the store’s policy.
“Some people come in and spend $400-$500 on them,” echoed Tom Reid at Fort Duty Free, which started selling the stuffed toys in April. “And they don’t even blink.”
He noted many adults–mostly middle-aged and working class Americans–will come in with lists off the Internet to collect those that are worth the bigger dollars.
“We have people who come in here who only need ‘Maple’ and the odd [other] one,” said Angela Lampi at Tammi’s, noting many want to complete their collection.
“Maple” is marketed strictly in Canada, which reportedly sells as high as $4,500 (U.S.) on the “second market” (individuals who buy and then resell to collectors).
And it’s that “second market” which has prompted Ty to restrict the number of Beanie Babies individuals can take into the U.S., where the company regulates the prices set by the retailers.
While the company can issue letters allowing people to take more, other Americans are restricted to taking one home, explained Walden Shold, port director at U.S. Customs in International Falls.
“If we know about it, we’re supposed to enforce it,” he noted.
But that hasn’t fazed the customers. On an average day, Tammi’s sells some 50 Beanie Babies (the regular line runs at $9.95 each).
“But there’s been days when we’ve probably sold 100,” Lampi said.
Fort Duty Free averaged 30-40 a day (at $9.99 each, or $24.95 for the retired Beanies). But Reid admitted they were low on stock now although more are expected later this month.
And with the high demand for “Maple,” Tammi’s has set up a draw for those purchasing four regular-line Beanie Babies.
“And if your name is drawn, then you have to buy it,” Lampi explained, noting people got very excited when their name was drawn.
Another hot seller is “Princess,” a tribute to Diana. One woman came in to get four of those bears (at $69.95 each). To do that, she had to buy 16 regular-line ones.
Reid agreed, noting he had a young girl ask him to put the bear away for her (at $49). Someone else came in an offered $200 (U.S.) for that same bear. He held it for the young girl.
At Christmas, that bear was selling as high as $500 (U.S.) on the “second market.”
Tammi’s used to have a waiting list for people wanting a harder-to-come-by Beanie Baby but that got trashed after Christmas. They were fielding too many calls.
“We can’t hang onto them,” added Lori Shoemaker, also at Tammi’s.
But not everyone is happy about the Beanie Baby popularity with the adults. Bobbi Rydberg of Wisconsin, who missed out by minutes on the last “Erin” in stock at Tammi’s, noted many collectors were scooping them up in Canada and selling them for big bucks south of the border.
And that, she noted, was making it difficult for children to get them. She noted she buys them for her two nephews and son (ages two through 12).
“I won’t pay over $100,” she stressed Monday, noting her nephew had one rarer Beanie Baby stolen at a basketball game.
She searched for seven months for “Peace” bear to give to her nephew to take with him as he endured allergy shots. And once he had it, he said he would be all right now, she added.
Some, though, are collecting Beanie Babies simply because they are cute. Donna Lowey explained she and her husband, Blair, first started bringing Beanie Babies back for their three daughters when they went on business trips.
While it wasn’t as big a craze then, she noted a person now can catch the Beanie Baby channel on the satellite dish similar to the home shopping network.
“They’re fun to collect,” grinned seven-year-old Nicole Lowey, who along with her sisters, Jessica, four, and Kaela, three, display more than 100 Beanie Babies in their bedroom.
But Reid questioned whether the bears actually would be of value in the years ahead. He felt it would similar to crazes such as the Cabbage Patch Dolls and “Tickle Me Elmo,” that eventually die out, adding it really hadn’t caught on with Canadians yet.
“Us Canadians are too smart for that,” he joked.