Furby takes over as ‘toy of the season’

Matt Kuhns

Ask any department store employee what this holiday’s hottest toy is, and you’ll hear the same answer every time — Furby.

“That’s [definitely] the toy for this season,” said Mark Pistorious, store manager at Wal-Mart, 3015 Grand Ave.

Furby is a stuffed animal and digital pet. Outwardly it resembles the small creature Gizmo from the movie “Gremlins.”

According to the Furby Web site, Furbys start out as newborns speaking their own “Furbish” language, but as time goes by, they mature and gradually learn English.

Furbys do not actually learn words they hear, but they have a built-in vocabulary which develops over time, allowing them to potentially speak more than 800 phrases.

The toys are responsive to light, sound and motion, and they will interact with other Furbys.

There is no off-switch on Furby. The only way to make it stop is to take out the batteries and reset the toy to its newborn state.

But that minor concern has not kept Furby from becoming the biggest Christmas-seller in years.

Brian Schlepp, assistant manager at Target, 620 Lincoln Way, said the last shipment of Furbys his store received was sold out within five minutes.

Pistorious said the situation is the same at Wal-Mart. He said the first 20 calls to Wal-Mart every morning are from people asking about Furby.

“People go out of their way to get [a Furby],” he said.

However, consumer response actually has been relatively mild in Ames.

In major cities, news services have reported shoppers lining up outside stores hours in advance and in some cases nearly rioting when the toys arrive.

Many Furby owners are willing to part with the toy for a price.

On some Internet auction sites, bids for Furbys are as high as $200, eight times the typical retail price.

Pistorious said one reason Furby has taken off is because, unlike the Tickle-Me-Elmos that were popular two years ago, Furbys are produced with different colors and patterns.

Schlepp said because the toy is so hard to find, it also has become something of a collector’s item.

“Whoever came up with this is probably smiling,” Pistorious said.

Furby is the invention of electronic toy and game designer Dave Hampton.

According to the Furby Web site, Hampton was inspired by key chain digital pets, but he wanted to create something larger with which kids could actually play.