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Silly Bandz, the Bracelets That Spring Off Shelves

At Michael Casaren's toy store in South Orange, N.J., children from elementary to high school are coming in every day with their wrists and forearms wrapped in a jumble of silicone bracelets, desperate to buy more.  

The bracelets are called silly bandz, and they are today's kid fad. Sold in packs of 12 for about $2.50, or 24 for about $5, they are organized according to theme: animals, princesses, alphabet, Western, for example. Children stack them on their wrists and trade them. The coveted ones glow in the dark. On a child's wrist, they look like brightly colored rubber bands, but laid on a lunchroom table for inspection, they revert to their original shape.  

"It's definitely an obsession," said Mr. Casaren, whose store, Sparkhouse Kids, has sold out and is awaiting a new shipment of 16 cases.  

If Sparkhouse Kids is like other stores throughout the region, those cases will also sell out soon after their contents land on shelves. Children call stores wanting to know if new bands are in. Parents ask to be put on waiting lists, or even offer to pay more for first dibs on new arrivals.  

Teachers have banned them from their classrooms for being a distraction. At the after-school program at Tuscan Elementary School in Maplewood, N.J., for instance, students were told they could not trade them any longer because the bands were causing arguments, and a few children without them were sneaking them away from those with an abundance of them. But like any good craze, interest only surged when the toy became contraband.  

"It's totally viral," said Wendy Bellermann, a mother of three elementary-school children in Maplewood. "It's the perfect fad from a retail point of view. They are eminently losable. They break." She added, "If your friend has the princess kind, then you have to have the princess kind, too."  

The silly bandz craze was first noticed in Birmingham, Ala., late last year, according to one of the manufacturers, and has steadily spread up the East Coast. Parts of New Jersey, Long Island and Staten Island first started seeing them in November, and those areas are now gripped by the craze. So far the fad has not erupted in the rest of New York City, but one distributor estimates it will in a few weeks when the large toy stores start selling them.  

Though they are referred to generically as "silly bandz" by their young collectors, the same product is made by a handful of competing manufacturers and marketed under names like Silly Bandz, Zanybandz and Crazy Bands. They are popular with boys and girls alike. There's a Facebook page with more than 83,000 fans, and a whole genre of videos on YouTube in which children show off their collections. The Web site eBay hosts a lively online auction of the bands where sets can be snapped up at a discount.  

The appeal of silly bandz lies in their combination of being affordable, collectible and tradable, says Jackie Breyer, editor in chief of The Toy Book, a magazine based in Manhattan. She said they are reminiscent of the Kooky Klicker pens that were popular last year, as well as the Beanie Babies and Webkinz crazes.  

"They're cool to trade, to collect and fun to play with and everyone is, like, going crazy about them," said Kaitlin Thomas, 8, of Maplewood, who owns between 70 and 80, some of which were bought with money from her piggy bank. "The penguin and golden retriever are my favorites because everyone says the penguin is rare and I think the golden retriever is cute."  

James Howard, president of Zanybandz, based in Oklahoma, said the idea originated in China with shaped silicone office products. He said that he suggested making them in cute shapes that would appeal to children and that the Learning Express stores in Birmingham picked up on the craze when the product started to fly off the shelves. Sales quickly went from 25 packs a month to 7,000 a month.  

"Pretty soon we were banned in six school districts there, and after we were banned in the first one, there was no looking back," he said. "Getting banned fuels the craze like a five-gallon can of gasoline on a campfire."  

Sean McGowan, an analyst who tracks the toy industry for Needham & Company, said that in a high-tech era when children want iPods and iPads and Wii games, it's refreshing to see something as simple as this get their attention.  

"This is the lowest of technologies," he said.  

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