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Beanie what?

Webkinz, considered the new Beanie Babies, are the latest craze in West Linn and Lake Oswego
by: Vern Uyetake, Samantha Zito takes a Webkinz toy off the shelf at West Linn’s Lavender Bleu store.

The general consensus is that Webkinz are the next Beanie Babies … an overwhelming popular toy that has children and parents scrambling to obtain the most current accessories.

But, more likely, Webkinz are the first in a path that many traditional toys may be going down in the near future.

After taking the East Coast by storm, the craze has hit West Linn and Lake Oswego. And, after an initially slow start, stores in each city are now finding it hard to stay on top of demand.

In short, Webkinz are stuffed animals, no different than those that have existed for decades. They retail for around $12-$15 and come in a wide variety of different species from beagles to reindeer (just released for Christmas).

But the vast popularity of Webkinz stems from what happens when the stuffed animal gets home and its owner gets in front of a computer.

Each animal has a unique code that comes with it and when that code is typed into the Webkinz Web site, an entire world opens up.

The child's toy comes to life on the screen. Games can be played to earn money which can, in turn, be used to decorate the pet's home, buy food and other necessities for it and even take it to the veterinarian.

All of this can produce a mixed bag of opinions from the parents of Webkinz owners. For one, the general concept of the toys teaches children about finance and the games that are played help with math, spelling and typing, but the sheer number of hours that are spent pampering the pets can be problematic.

'My dad's going to get mad,' said Samantha Zito, who recently purchased a black cat and a black labrador, her ninth and 10th Webkinz respectively.

'But she has to do all of her homework first,' said her mom, Tonia.

The Zitos stopped by Lavender Bleu in West Linn, the only store in the city that sells the critters. Owners Sue Rivelli and Milynn Schaefer have been selling Webkinz since January and saw sales get off to a slow start.

'We were tentative. It didn't quite fit what we had in our store. But we were closed yesterday doing some re-arranging and had people knocking on the door wanting to buy Webkinz,' Rivelli said.

On Tuesday, Lavender Bleu received its first shipment of clothing for the Webkinz, a new feature, and half a dozen children were waiting as Schaefer opened the box.

The clothes are the newest accessory for purchase along with charms and trading cards.

Nicol Reiniche was also in the market for a new pet to become the newest friend for the 18 Webkinz she owns. The google (a platypus-type creature) is her current favorite.

Julie Haas, of Lake Oswego's Glass Butterfly, saw how popular the items were on the East Coast and took a chance as well.

'We're selling hundreds a week. Now we've finally caught up but I think there will be a big run before Christmas,' Haas said.

And because each store has a different selection, it can attract interest from outside the local area.

'We had a woman who was in town from Arizona come in a few weeks ago and was thrilled that we had the Webkinz horse because she couldn't find any. So she bought six,' Hass said.

The Webkinz phenomenon has spread primarily by word of mouth but they are expected to be one of the hottest sellers in the country heading into the holiday shopping season. That is, unless another craze comes along to take its place in the next month.

To find a store that sells Webkinz, visit www.Webkinz.com.