COSTA MESA — Big Bird and Ernie met baby strollers--lots of them--parked outside the nation's first Sesame Street retail store, which opened Thursday at South Coast Plaza.
The Sesame Street General Store, which loosely resembles the set of the long-running Public Broadcasting Service television show, is the first of a dozen such outlets due to open in 1990. Three more stores will open this fall, in Glendale, Palo Alto and San Francisco.
The Sesame Street store, operated by Sesame Street Retail Stores Inc. of Hayward, Calif., features merchandise based on Sesame Street characters: Bert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Elmo.
The store is part of a growing trend toward stores specializing in cartoon or TV characters. Walt Disney Co. has opened 67 Disney stores in the past three years and Hanna-Barbera Productions recently opened two stores. The Disney Store at South Coast Plaza opened in November, 1987.
"I think the Sesame Street concept will be a blockbuster," said Sarah Stack, analyst with the Los Angeles brokerage Bateman Eichler, Hill Richards. "The Sesame Street characters are easily as well-known as the Disney characters."
South Coast Plaza officials have gradually been building a children-oriented section near the mall's Carousel Court. The new Sesame Street store joins The Disney Store, F.A.O. Schwarz toy store, and the Bergstroms and GapKids childrens clothing stores near the carousel.
The planning for Sesame Street stores has been in the works since 1988, said Eugene Platin, president and chief executive of the chain, who was at the Friday opening. The stores are targeting kids up to age 7 with clothing, toys, books, stuffed animals, arts, crafts and games, home furnishings, and bed and bath supplies.
Stack said the Sesame Street store is apparently trying to distinguish itself from Disney by emphasizing an educational element. The Sesame Street store has a wall where kids can draw and has other play spaces, while The Disney Store is a more traditional outlet.
She said both will capitalize on the enormous popularity of their names. "The name Disney or Sesame Street is a touchstone for all sorts of positive associations," she said.
United Press International contributed to this article.