Holiday retail's potent pull

My wife went downstairs early one recent Saturday morning to make coffee and found the Yellow Pages out on the counter, open to "toys."

She figured that was a message from me to call our local Kay-Bee store about "The Shipment."

That was our cryptic code for the arrival of more FurReal Friends, the mechanical (but "lifelike") cats that have clawed their way to the top of many a Christmas list.

In fact, I had simply neglected to close the phone book after having come down to make that call myself at 5 a.m., start time for the sale at which the fur was supposed to fly.

Sure, others would be lined up outside the store when it opened. But I had this idea that if the cats had come in at all - not a sure thing as of the previous day - the pile would surely last until 5:20. The store is 10 minutes away.

Silly me. "All gone," I was told.

Somehow, these hot-toy hunts that make news every year had never before been staged from my household. ("No kidding," you may scoff.) But this cat had seemed worth chasing a bit. My 6-year-old daughter is predictably kitty crazed - though only vaguely aware of this toy. I had comedic visions of its first encounter with our very real dog.

I went back to bed that morning mildly disappointed, but figuring we'd do fine with our much-less-in-demand gift alternatives.

Still - lo, the potency of popular trends! - I bounded back out of bed again when my wife ran upstairs, having made her call, to say there were two left. (Wrong. It was a rookie clerk's error, it turned out, made in the thick of battle.)

Today's lead story peers through the smoke of holiday retail to see who's driving this frenzy, and how.

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