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Fight Over Popular Doll Leads Stores to Halt, Limit Sales

November 2, 1996

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) _ Sick of adults throwing tantrums over unmet demand for Happy Holidays Barbie dolls, some store owners have limited sales _ and one stopped selling them altogether.

``There’s too many worries in the world for grown people to raise such a fuss over Barbie,″ said Dee Hughes, manager of the toy department at a Wal-Mart in Athens.

Hughes said customers have been calling at 6 a.m. to see if a shipment arrived overnight. Sometimes they harass sales clerks, convinced that the seasonal Barbies _ in their glittery gold gowns, dark velvet coats, white fur hats and hand muffs _ are stashed in a back room.

Hughes’ solution: stop selling Happy Holidays Barbie. Her district manager gave Wal-Mart stores the option of selling the dolls this year, and the sales staff agreed: they just aren’t worth the hassle.

Further shipments will be donated to terminally ill children at three area hospitals, Hughes said.

Mattel Inc., which manufactures Barbie, contends there are plenty of the dolls to go around.

``We didn’t want to disappoint again this year, so we increased our production and shipped earlier than normal,″ Mattel spokeswoman Sara Rosales said Friday. Shipments started in July, instead of September, she said.

They can’t be shipped fast enough, says a Toys R’ Us manager, Mark Thomas, whose Chattanooga store has sold more than 500 of the Barbies at about $35 apiece.

``I sold 140 dolls in one day in July and that was with no advertising,″ said Thomas. ``They’ll never be able to make enough to satisfy the demand.″

So from now on, Thomas is limiting sales _ It’s first come, first serve _ two dolls per person per day.

The Barbie brand sold $1.4 billion of merchandise worldwide last year, and Holiday Barbies represent a growing niche for Mattel. Rosales attributes the demand to adult collectors who prize the limited edition dolls.

Finding the special-edition doll was all but impossible after Thanksgiving last year. Toy stores sold out and Mattel ran out of stock. For the first time in its history, the company sold vouchers, which promised delivery of the doll _ but long after Santa had come and gone.

That won’t happen this time, Rosales promised. ``Every little girl and adult who wants a doll under the tree can have one this year.″

At the Kmart in Athens, the dolls are put on shelves behind the service desk, and sales are limited to two per customer a day as well.

Last year, the Kmart used a lottery system. People arrived before dawn to line up for a voucher to reserve a doll. When the store opened hours later, only voucher holders could purchase Barbie.

The system led to long lines and short tempers, manager Tammy Bellew said. People seem to accept this year’s system better.

``We get calls every day,″ she said. ``Mattel says there will be plenty, which we hope is true.″

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