Normally, I post an extended Black Friday recap to talk about the shopping experience with my family, but there isn’t much to tell that hasn’t already been said on Twitter. I figured I’d try something different this year and flashback to a time in the Wyoming Valley’s history when there was a run on a must-have toy….the cabbage patch doll.
In 1983, I was a bald-headed 2 year old living in Hanover Township with just my Mom and Dad. My brother wasn’t born until 1986. For whatever reason, my Mom decided that a cabbage patch doll was the perfect gift for me to open on Christmas morning. My mother had mentioned this to my Grandparents and my Grandfather (bless his soul) decided he would be the one to pick up the goods.
November 27 of that same year was actually the Sunday after Thanksgiving. My Grandfather jumped in his car and headed over to the local Zayre’s department store. If you are not from the area or not familiar, Zayre’s was along the same line as a K-Mart department store. In the late 1980s, Zayre’s was sold off to the Ames Department store chain which eventually met it’s demise in 2002.
I would make an educated guess and say that the store most likely opened up at 10 or 11 am in the morning, as that is the normal hours of retail operation around here on Sundays. When my grandfather arrived the parking lot of Zayre’s (which is now where current day Raymour and Flannigan is in Wilkes-Barre Township) he could not find a parking spot anywhere. After driving around for several minutes, he eventually found somewhere to pull over. He walked up to the store and there was a long line of people waiting to get in. My Grandfather struck up a conversation with the people in front of him. He didn’t understand what the line was for. They told him it was for a cabbage patch doll. My Grandfather then exclaimed that was what he was there for too!
After standing in line for a couple of minutes, my Grandfather ventured up to the front of the store to see what was going on. Someone (an employee?) told him that they were giving out tickets for the dolls and there were only so many that they had – 200 I believe. With that information in the back of his mind, my Grandfather knew he was not getting a doll. He went back to the end of the line and decided to tell the people what was going on before he left. Needless to say, they were EXTREMELY upset. I don’t know whether or not this caused the riot, but I’m sure it did not help matters.
Last week, I started talking to a few co-workers that remembered the riot well. I told them my story and they started teasing me that my Grandfather started the riot. Rest assured, that didn’t happen. My Grandfather is the most laid back, mild mannered person you’d ever meet. He was only sharing information with people so that they wouldn’t stand in the freezing cold line only to leave empty handed.
To sum up what is happening here…A Store Employee stood on a counter swinging a baseball bat to try to regain order of the crowd which included roughly 1000 people. Eventually, as you can see from the video, he started tossing the dolls into the crowd. This made national newspapers, magazines, and TV news shows. If you are wondering, my Grandparents ended up finding me a Cabbage Patch doll elsewhere a few weeks later and no one was hurt in the purchase of the doll.
Even though this box says 1985 – I swear this is the doll I received (as disturbing as it looks):
Did I mention that my head was as bald as this doll’s was until I was about 3 years old? I’ll have to dig up a picture of that somewhere.
Anyway, holding this discussion with my fellow co-workers caused me to be late to class last Monday night. My teacher/former manager was not pleased with me as we had a test that night. I started to explain to him why and he recalled what he remembered about the riot, mainly, how the Cabbage Patch dolls supply stayed stocked in the valley. The Mericles!
From the CV: Robert Mericle capitalized on 1983’s Cabbage Patch Kid craze while studying economics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. After witnessing a customer free-for-all at a city department store that received a shipment of the sought-after but understocked dolls in November 1983, Mericle ordered 10,000 on credit and sold certificates promising post-Christmas delivery. After the Cabbage Patch coup, he formed a toy-distribution company that he operated through his college years.
Mericle then went into real estate, transforming a crumbling, abandoned shoe factory in Wilkes-Barre into the first local headquarters for student-loan processor Sallie Mae. He found a niche buying lots in the local industrial parks owned by chambers of commerce, building on them and wooing local and national firms to purchase or lease, often using government tax incentives as bait.
You may remember Robert Mericle in recent years for his participation in sweetheart deals in the courthouse/kids for cash corruption scandals. You may also know his parents. They own Main Hardware on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, home of Christmasland.
After all of the trouble my family went to for this oh-so-perfect Christmas gift for me, would you believe that I never played with it? Growing up, I was more of a Tomboy and I didn’t play with dolls. At all. No barbies, no cabbage patch, no babies. The closest I came to playing with dolls was She-Ra, and those were more of action figures than anything else. My mother at one point questioned if I would ever have kids. I guess we all know how that turned out.
After learning about these riots years later, I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I didn’t play with the doll more knowing how much trouble everyone went though to get it. Oh well. I guess it would have been sold at an flea market or the Salvation Army at some point as I grew up. I hope someone gave the little tyke a good home.