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JAUNTS: in and around the Valley

Beanie Babies on Parade

Valencia show will give collectors of popular toys a chance to trade, sell.

September 10, 1998|IRENE GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What do these three things have in common? Mayhem at toy stores violent crimes thousands of dollars in purchases.

Give up? They're all connected to the growing obsession with Beanie Babies, those cute little animals stuffed with beans. And we're talking about actions by adults, not crazed kids or fanatic adolescents.

When the fuzzy animals first came out in 1994, they retailed for $5.99 and had obvious appeal for children. Each one has a heart-shaped tag with the animal's name, birthday and a poem.

They were big hits, and with names like Weenie, Spunky, Dotty and Gigi, who could resist?

But times have changed. Now there's a lucrative Beanie Baby market with more than 100 models, some selling for thousands of dollars. If you can get them, that is.

That's where the mayhem and crime come in. Stores have been robbed and people have been mugged for Beanie Babies. And around the country, near-riots have broken out at stores that receive new shipments.

If you want to see what all the hoopla is about, check out the "Beanies Etcetera" show Sunday at the Hyatt Valencia. More than 50 collectors will bring their beloved Beanies to sell and trade. There will be thousands of Beanie Babies made by Ty Inc. and others by Disney. Those manufactured by Ty, a company based in Oak Brook, Mass., are the most popular and expensive.

Also, a retired Ty model--which could be worth big bucks--will be given away to an adult every hour, and a new model will be given to a child. The grand prize is Maple, a white bear with a Canadian flag embroidered on its stomach.

Beanie Baby fanatic Carolyn McKenzie created the show because she got tired of driving from her Northridge home to Orange County, where she says most Beanie Baby shows are held.

Although Beanie fever has hit the Valley and Ventura County, apparently Orange and San Bernardino counties have the most organized Beanie Baby events.

"I've been overwhelmed by people in Valencia because there's no other show out there, yet there are many collectors," McKenzie said. "People are very excited."

The Beanie Baby madness hit McKenzie, a production scheduling supervisor at CBS, about a year ago. A friend gave her Weenie the dachshund for her birthday and McKenzie thought it was so cute, she checked out others. According to McKenzie's daughter, Stacy Astrias, a writer at CBS, "The first day she went to see what else they had, I went by her office and there were 20 of them on her desk. A week later she had hundreds of them!"

Now Astrias collects them, as does her brother, who made fun of their mom when he first heard about her purchases.

"My brother just rolled his eyes and laughed but, before you knew it, he had hundreds of them," Astrias said. "Now he's really into it."

McKenzie isn't sure how many Beanie Babies she owns. Her large Northridge home is practically covered with the cuddly little things. They're all over the place.

"I know I have thousands, but I wouldn't want to count them," she said. "It would be way too frightening."

Her prized collection includes Pinchers the Lobster, estimated to be worth $3,000; Brownie the Bear, worth $4,500; Humphrey the Camel, worth $2,500; and Peanut the Elephant, worth $5,000.

Then there are the valuable mistakes like Sport the Dog. Ty forgot to put the spot on a few of the toys, and McKenzie owns one. She says it's worth $2,200.

A purple bear called Princess was supposed to have a flower on its chest, but a few were made without it. McKenzie has one and it's worth about $2,000. Of course, she also has the one with the flower. "Princess is my favorite of all the Beanie Babies," she said.

She agrees that bears tend to be the most popular and most difficult to get. There's Glory, Curly, Peace, Fortune and Valentino, to name a few.

McKenzie has most of them. She surfs the Internet and calls Beanie Babies hotlines to find them.

This business of little stuffed animals has become a big part of her life.

Once she camped out with about 100 people for four hours to get a cow Beanie Baby. Another time, she returned to a store in disguise to purchase a new Beanie model that had a limit of one per customer.

"It started out as a hobby and just got out of control," McKenzie said, laughing.

* Send Jaunts ideas, allowing at least two weeks' notice, to staff writer Irene Garcia at The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or send e-mail to Irene.Garcia@latimes.com.

BE THERE

"Beanies Etcetera Beanie Baby" show Sunday, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Hyatt Valencia, 24500 Town Center Drive. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children, which includes a free hourly raffle of retired models. Information: (818) 407-8979.

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