The Strange Cabbage Patch Craze

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Actually, the $25 price is just for openers. Like Ken and Barbie of an earlier mania, the Cabbage Patch Kids are mannequins waiting to be outfitted with all the costumes and accouterments that Daddy can afford. There is a Cabbage Patch folding stroller for $14, a Snuggle-Close Carrier for $10 and an array of wardrobes that include School Days, Nightie-Night, Country Kid, Winter Warmer and so on, at about $9 apiece. Still ahead lie Cabbage Patch T shirts, shoes, games and who knows what else from other licensees. All of it, according to one perhaps rosy estimate on Wall Street, should earn Coleco $150 million by the end of 1984.

Not a minute too soon. While Coleco has been reveling in the profits and publicity growing out of its cabbage patch, it has also been afflicted by delays and criticisms of its promising Adam home computer. There have been rumors (hotly denied by Greenberg) that the cost of launching Adam has left the company grievously short of cash.

Riding a roller coaster is a Coleco tradition. Maurice Greenberg, a Russian immigrant, started the Connecticut Leather Co. in Hartford in 1932 to sell supplies to shoemakers, but his sons Arnold and Leonard began conglomerating in the 1960s. They shifted from leather into plastics and soon became the world's largest manufacturer of above-ground swimming pools. That was a seasonal business, so they bought a snowmobile manufacturer and suffered heavy losses during the mild winter that followed. They admired Atari's pioneering home video game, Pong, and they made a fortune on an imitation named Telstar. But they overinvested in that, lost $22 million in 1978 and nearly went bankrupt. Then they gambled heavily on ColecoVision, which could play both Atari and Mattel games. It is still selling well (1.9 million units so far) at $175.

Coleco was the best performer on the New York Stock Exchange in 1982, up from $6.87 to $36.75 a share. This year the Greenbergs put most of their chips on their Adam computer, to retail for less than $700, the first complete home system to sell for less than $1,000. They promised to deliver 500,000 units by Christmas, but all summer there were delays and reports of faulty equipment. Most experts think the Adam will live up to its promise, however, and by last week Coleco said belated deliveries were running at 2,000 a day. And the stock, which had sunk in pre-doll times, gained 5⅛ points in two days, in large part because of the mysterious Cabbage Patch mania.

What is there about these creatures that makes so many people wait in line for hours for a chance to push and shove and generally go bonkers? Two disc jockeys in Milwaukee wisecracked that a load of the dolls would be dropped from a B-29 bomber to people who held up catcher's mitts and American Express cards; two dozen believers actually turned up at County Stadium, braving a wind-chill factor of — 2° F, in the vain hope of manna.

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