Early this year, a man walked into the Detroit offices of the Kresge Co.'s variety chain. He introduced himself to the merchandising manager, then took out a small pipe no bigger than a soda straw and quickly blew a glasslike bubble as big as a watermelon. Then he detached it and handed it to the merchandising manager. Bubble in hand, the manager hastily called a meeting of Kresge's entire sales department to consider this wonderful toy.

By last week, not only Kresge's but Woolworth's and scores of other dime and department stores were selling thousands of 29¢ and 49¢...

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