THE MEMORIES OF A DOLL RIOT VETERAN
SCARS LINGER FROM '83 CABBAGE PATCH BRAWL
By ALAN K. STOUT; Times Leader Staff Writer
Friday, November 27, 1998 Page: 1A
The store lines may be long, the traffic hectic and the people a bit pushy
on this "Black Friday." But days like today- traditionally the busiest
shopping day of the year- will always seem like a breeze to me.
I've survived much greater battles.
It was 15 years ago today that I emerged unscathed from one of the greatest
shopping massacres of all-time. Yes, I admit it, I was at the now-infamous
"Zayre's Cabbage Patch Riot."
And it all began with a simple request from Mom.
"Zayre's is getting a shipment of those Cabbage Patch dolls on Sunday, and
I've been trying to get one for Susan for weeks," she said. "I need you to go
with me. If we get up there early, maybe we can get her one for Christmas.
It's all she wants, and with two of us, we might have a better chance."
Having a sister 10 years my junior, I'd seen this before. Strawberry
Shortcakes, Smurfs ... you name it, Susan had it.
But there had never been anything quite like the Cabbage Patch craze.
Supply, for some reason, could not meet demand, leaving the prospect of lots
of disappointed kids on Christmas morning.
Still, I wasn't an easy sell for the Cabbage Patch quest. Asking a teenager
to get up early on the weekend to do something enjoyable can be challenging.
Asking a teenage boy to get up early on the weekend to go buy a doll is, well
Staking out for Rolling Stones' tickets I could understand.
But for a doll?
Eventually, however, the dutiful big-brother instinct kicked in and I
agreed to join Mom on the zany mission. I felt confident we'd snag one of the
fluffy babies, and- as we left the house a few hours before the store's
opening- I thought few people would actually be there.
As we came down the hill towards the store, I couldn't believe my eyes.
There before us were hundreds of people, some- the papers later would report-
who'd been there since midnight.
Undaunted, we proceeded forward.
While waiting for the store to open, the conversations among the masses
were cordial. Everyone had a story about some child in the family who
desperately wanted one of these ugly dolls. I took comfort in seeing one of my
friends from Wyoming Valley West High School at what I had deemed a very
All was well until 8:50 a.m., when the doors finally opened. It was then
that this previously mild-mannered group- which by then had reached nearly
1,000- transformed into a frenzied pack of wolves. A massive surge pushed
everyone forward as the crowd frantically entered the store.
Still, there was uncertainty as to where the dolls were located. Rumors
outside had hinted they were not in the toy department, but at the front
The feverish hunt had begun. Mom and I split up and I noticed a throng
gathered near one of the front counters. Heading in that direction, I saw
people running at full speed, pushing, shoving, elbowing and screaming. ...
Even an off-beat teenager like myself- probably wearing a jean jacket and
Twisted Sister shirt- felt I was above the situation.
"This," I thought, "is silly."
Soon, the store manager- later quoted as saying he was fearful for his
life- began fending off the crowd with a baseball bat. Standing behind the
counter with the bat twirling in the air, he began tossing the dolls out over
the crowd. Which, of course, triggered the same reaction you'd get from a
fumbled football on Super Bowl Sunday.
One poor woman lucky enough to snatch a doll later was pushed to the floor
and had it torn from her grasp. She was later taken to the hospital with a
broken leg. Four others also were treated for injuries.
After what seemed like only a few minutes, it was all over. I could not
bring myself to shove or hurt anyone for a doll, so I watched most of the
chaos from the sidelines. Mom, I would learn after relocating her in the
aftermath, had done the same. We headed back to the car empty-handed, but with
our integrity and dignity intact.
That night, Wilkes-Barre was in the national news. Clips of the fiasco-
mostly of the bat-wielding manager- appeared on CNN and stories ran in
newspapers around the country.
And a few weeks later, Santa somehow came through and Susan got her Cabbage
Patch doll for Christmas.
But you'll never find me at a mall on "Black Friday" or wildly searching
for the season's trendy gift. The trauma of my experience still runs deep. And
while I don't hear chopper blades or gunfire, I can still hear the uproar of
the crowd. I can still see those dolls flying through the air. ...
I can still feel the madness.
But hey, have fun out there today. Drive safe. Be patient. And remember, no
matter how bad it gets, it will never match the spectacle of Nov. 27, 1983. No
Furby is worth it.
Unless, of course, you've got a kid sister.
Alan K. Stout writes for the Arts & Leisure Team. He can be reached at
Times Leader File Photo
Today marks the 15th anniversary of the infamous `Zayre's Cabbage Patch