Part I: Hard times for american grrrrrls

23 02 2008

Word from Chicago Avenue in Chicago is that American Girl Place might be feeling the pinch of what “may well be the beginning of a recession” (the current media name for the current American economic turbulence).

This week the Chicago Tribune broke the story that the pricey purveyor of historicized zombie dolls was dismantling its in-house theatrical troupe (something about not the same since the 2006 NYC actors strike that appealed to non-union American Girl Place performers).

The second big news out of the doll’s mouth was they were moving off the street, leaving their plum location next to the grand Chicago/North Michigan Avenue digs of wealthy dreams factory Ralph Lauren.

American Girl Place will move a couple of blocks north and east to the upper nethers of Water Tower Place, the once thrilling but now sedate vertical shopping mall that set the pace for the neighborhood make-over as a world-class shopping destination for class-ascension tools.

Since it opened several years back, American Girl Place has slightly frightened plan “b.” Even as a child, plan “b” failed to understood the allure of dolls. It seemed like it was the really cruel girls who liked dolls. They would make their dolls do things. They would torture their dolls. They would force feed them liquids until water or juice seeped out of their dolly armpits. plan “b” wondered after she grew up if “toy” dolls and voodoo dolls were somehow related.

The inescapable sight of the perfectly humanoid dolls being escorted up and down Michigan Avenue by little girls always reminded plan “b” of the first version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” the one with Kevin McCarthy.

This time the “pod people” from outer space had chosen the dolly delivery system and those little girls and their adoring families were already changing. The crowded North Mich. sidewalks had two kinds of beings on them, the humans and the doll people.

It seemed that it would never end, that bobbing stream of the big burgundy American Girl Place shopping bags full of historically if not anatomically correct accessories, suitably priced to tog a doll with a price tag dripping digits. It was well known on the Avenue that many of these dolls had been taken to lunch in the doll and human dining facility inside the store. Lucky dolls had also been taken to the theatrical review to see their roll played by humans yearning to unionize. Or to be a real life doll and carried down the avenue to a lovely suburban bedroom.

plan “b” has only heard of one little girl whose American Place Doll suffered and that little girl was given the doll without demanding it. When she unwrapped it, she looked it over, threw it in her closet. She remembered it sometime later when she got interested in hair-cutting, did a trial on the eyelashes: cut them off entirely and then, confident of her talent as a cutter, she cut all its hair off and threw it back in the closet. About a year later a friend of hers found it in the closet, asked if she could have the doll and left with it, happy.

How do the little girls who so violently desired their American Girl Dolls treat them, once the dolly is at home and in their power? This plan “b” does not know. As they carefully, triumphantly carry their dolls away from the store, the little girls on the street look nothing less than ecstatic.

These are not the girls who drag their baby doll through the dirt by one foot. Until further research is carried out, “b’s” working theory is that these dolls are treated like the “princess” so many little girls are told they are (Americans tending to have no actual knowledge of the harsh treatment most dynastic princesses were subjected to).

What is suggested here is that the desire, the actual passion for these dolls is unabated. Yet the delerious doll economy of American Girl Place appears to have changed enough that they are planning what can only be described as budget cuts, moving off the street, eliminating their theatre company.

plan “b’s” preliminary hypothesis is that doll sales may be bruised by “what may well be the beginning of a recession.” Put another way, the dramatic increases in home foreclosures over the past year may have caused more than one little girl to forego her American Girl Doll because there was no longer a house to take it home to.

It is into this breach that plan “b” now steps, with a plan “b” for American Girl Place.




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