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Vote To Decide Beanie Fate

Just two weeks after saying it would no longer manufacture Beanie Babies, Ty Inc. said Friday that fans of the toys will have the last word on whether production should be halted.

The company had said it would stop production after Dec. 31. That followed a surprise announcement over the summer when the company said it planned to "retire" the dolls by the end of the year, but refused to elaborate.

"It's the spirit of P.T. Barnum still alive," said toy industry consultant Chris Byrne, referring to the shameless circus promoter. "How do you milk even more publicity out of a 4-inch stuffed toy?"

In a message posted on the company's Web site Friday, Ty Warner, owner of the Oak Brook, Ill.-based firm, said he has been overwhelmed by fans asking him to reconsider his decision.

"After much thought, I am willing to put the fate of Beanie Babies in your hands," the message said. "You make the decision. You have inspired the Beanie Babies line through your devotion to them."

The phones were not answered at the company's headquarters Friday.

Beanie Babies come in a variety of animal forms, with distinctive heart-shaped Beanie name tags. Ty began making them in 1993, starting a craze that made the company hundreds of millions of dollars and pushed prices for some of the collectible toys as high as $6,000.

But sales have been slowing over the past year. While adult collectors still are buying the stuffed dolls, many children are now more interested in other toys, such as cards and games based on the popular Pokemon cartoon.

"The kids had moved on, but there was a big outcry from the collectors," said Byrne. "I think this might transition into a solid collectibles business. If you can keep a collectibles business going, why not?"

The decision to discontinue the Beanies had fueled speculation among analysts and collectors that a new line of products might be introduced to capitalize on the company's enthusiastic fan base.

The vote will be held over a 48-hour period beginning at 6 a.m. Dec. 31.

Beanie fans can vote via the Internet or by phone. Each voter will be charged 50 cents, with proceeds going to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

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