Ghosts of Christmas hype 

Yule not cooled by lack of hot toys

There's no tickle Elmo this year. No white Power Ranger. No Cabbage Patch doll. No must-have toy driving parents to stores. Still, local retailers say they expect a strong holiday season. "It's not like in years past," says Garry Owenby, a section supervisor at a Cobb Toys R Us. "There's no one toy that people have to buy."

The closest contender is the Sony Playstation 2, a $300 video game system that boasts graphics, marketing hype and production delays like no other game before. Thanks to high demand and low supply, its late October release sparked long lines and even fist fights at some outlets.

New shipments -- what few there are -- come unannounced.

"We don't know when they're coming in or how many," Owenby says. "We have to be discreet when they do, because word gets around the store pretty quickly."

The most recent shipment of 30 units sold out within an hour and a half.

"It's a lot of hype," says Eric Bechtold, a manager trainee at the Cumberland Mall Software Etc. He says most game enthusiasts are less-than-impressed with the machine and expect it to be outclassed by Microsoft's first game system, due out in 2001.

Still, Bechtold says his store is "very sold out." In fact, the store stopped a waiting list when it topped 200 names. If you're willing to fork out upwards of 800 bucks, the machine can be had on eBay.

Area stores do, however, seem to have plenty of the season's other big seller: robot dogs. Several types are available with varying degrees of interactivity, depending on how much you're willing to spend. Top brands range from a $20 Poo-Chi to the $60 Big Scratch and Little Scratch combo. Remember Furbies? Well, technological advances have enabled toy makers to produce a product even more irritating.

These toys are definitely for smaller children, as older kids might become quickly bored with their noisy antics. An 11-year-old customer recently posted this review: "Poo-Chi is so stupid, I hate him. Don't buy him for anyone, ever!"

"My daughter says she wanted one, but I'm not doing it," says Kris, a Vinings mother of two. She agrees that noisy electronic toys generally don't hold kids' attention once it's home, though admits to splurging on a $37.99 Dancing Debbie, a gyrating "Britney Spears" kind of doll.

"My daughter played with Poo-Chi for about a week," says Chris Hunter, a Mableton father of a 6-year-old. "But after a five-hour marathon of barking the wedding march, we were glad she got tired of it."

Still, Hunter says he and his wife often splurge on these types of toys -- even though the playthings are doomed for a garage sale -- to make Christmas morning perfect.

"Christmas is as much for us as it is her," he says. "On Christmas Eve, I always look at her stuff under the tree and wonder if I could've found something else, that one thing she'd always remember."

He did balk last year before pur- chasing a $100 "My Size Barbie" that took a few weeks for his daughter to warm up to. Not as much as a nephew, Hunter says, who was found kissing the lifelike doll.

"I guess he figured, 'Hey, she looks pretty good and she's my size,' " Hunter recalls. "We put away life-sized Barbie after that."

"Barbie's the bomb," says Tim Engle, father of a 4-year-old who'll receive plenty of Barbie bounty this year. "My wife [andI] sacrificed getting each other presents. We give each other one or two gifts, but the rest goes to Hannah."

After all, there are expectations raised by doting relatives, Engle says. "Where we get hammered is with the grandparents. They get kids to expect the world. My father is retired and he loves to shop."

Which is good news for people like Mike Delk, manager of the Mall of Georgia Toys R Us. "Parents go out of their way for their kids this time of year," Delk says, noting that his store does 86 percent of its annual sales during the holiday season.

Even without The One Magic Toy.

"It's Christmas ... customers are going to be in the store no matter what."



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