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Oh baby, it's hard to find these toys

UPS drivers who deliver boxes of Beanie Babies to a Clearwater gift shop are stopped by collectors eager to buy the plush toys.

In Port Richey, one store's shipment of 200 of the critters sold out in less than an hour.

A Valentine's Day shipment of more than 1,000 sold out in four days at the Brandon mall.

The dash is on by Tampa Bay shoppers, who are scrambling for Ally the alligator, Fleece the lamb, Inky the octopus and other stuffed members of the Beanie Babies clan.

The brainchild of Ty Inc., an Oakbrook, Ill., toymaker, Beanie Babies are palm-sized bean bags that resemble a variety of creatures. Priced at $5 a piece, each Beanie Baby comes with a clever name, a birth date and a snappy poem.

Part of the company's marketing strategy is to find a niche at specialty and gift stores, not the giant discount toy stores.

"Beanie Babies are the hottest item I've ever seen in this store," said Jan Salhoff, manager of Jan's Hallmark Store in the Brandon TownCenter Mall. "When we've had them in, we've sometimes sold over 300 a day." The store has sold 5,294 Beanie Babies since the beginning of the year.

All this consumer interest means there's a shortage. "We put our orders in, but we never know when the Beanie Babies are coming in," she said. The store receives about 50 calls a day from people checking on any new arrivals.

Liz's Hallmark store in the Gulf View Square Mall in Port Richey has been sold out of Beanie Babies since January, and doesn't know when more will arrive, manager Gail Belasco said.

"It's frustrating for us and our customers that we haven't gotten anymore (Beanie Babies)," she said. The store has a waiting list of 60 people.

Write Occasions, a gift shop in Clearwater Mall, has a hard time even getting shipments from the UPS truck to the store. At times, eager shoppers have stopped the delivery truck driver before he reaches the shop. "We had two boxes come in Monday at 6 p.m., and they were gone by 11 a.m. the next morning," assistant manager Jeryl Tidwell said.

For those who can't find them in stores, there's another option: Some buyers are reselling them through the Beanie Babies Web site (www.beaniebaby.com). In some cases, it's a hefty markup. Tabasco the bull, for instance, fetches as much as $100.

A batch of Quackers the duck has even greater cachet. It seems part of the flock was made without wings. Those resell for up to $700.

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