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Nostalgic for the 80’s

Friday, July 11, 2003 at 12:23 PM

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Several northeast Ohio businesses are striking gold. If you grew up in the 80's or raised a child during that time, chances are you're familiar with characters like Strawberry Shortcake and the Care Bears. Remember G.I. Joe and the Transformers? The cheesy kitsch that characterized the decade is now the epitome of cool. And as ideastream's Renita Jablonski reports, as people are getting nostalgic, local companies are seeing green.

Oh the good ‘ol days, when it was cool to wear leg warmers, not as a winter necessity but as a fashion accessory. Rick Springfield was rockin’. Polyester was out and jelly bracelets were in. And for the first time ever, you could buy a doll that smelled like fruit.

Yes, she lived and played in a cake made of strawberries. She was none other than Strawberry Shortcake.

Christina Stewart: This of course is the very large Strawberry Shortcake house, the Berry Happy Home. Everything in Strawberry’s world is “berry.” Instead of “very” it’s “berry.”

Christina Stewart is a mom-to-be. But the toys she’s describing aren’t for her new baby - they’re hers. The living room of her Euclid home may as well double as a strawberry patch.

Christina Stewart: And this thing is just so cool because she’s got like everything known to man. She’s got a piano, she’s got a telescope, she’s got a play dollhouse that looks exactly like this one.

Stewart’s collection is impressive: hundreds of dolls, a Strawberry Shortcake tree topper, porcelain china set, a milk glass lamp, lunch boxes, tooth brush sets, you name it. She’ll share some of her items with nearly one hundred Shortcake lovers from all over the country tomorrow. Stewart is the organizer of the first-ever Strawberry Shortcake Convention being held at the downtown Cleveland Sheraton.

Christina Stewart: We’re all about 25 to 35 years old. Most of us grew up with Strawberry Shortcake back in the 1980s and we’re still going strong collecting her now.

Strawberry may be a pretty sassy chick but she owes much of her success to the license-savvy folks at American Greetings. With the company’s world headquarters based in Cleveland, it’s only appropriate to celebrate Miss Shortcake in the city that’s her birthplace. Mike Brown is Vice President of Licensing at American Greetings.

Mike Brown: Care Bears was launched in 1980 and from 1981 to 1985 did about $1.5 billion in merchandise sales. Strawberry Shortcake was launched in 1981 and from ‘82 to about ‘87 did $1.2 billion in sales. So these two brands were the industry and the start of basically licensed merchandising and launching a brand to consumers that they could identify with and then buy the appropriate product.

And now the frenzy is happening all over again. A couple of years ago American Greetings took their 80s hard hitters, Strawberry Shortcake and the Care Bears, and started re-issuing items targeted to teens and young adults. T-shirts, watches, and cosmetics started popping up in specialty stores, and they were flying off the shelves.

Mike Brown: And you can see we got a steering wheel cover and floor mats and again, this was designed to be able to go after that demographic and that channel of distribution that is into the 80s nostalgia retro feel.

The next step was to update the characters and re-launch an entire new line aimed at today’s kids.

This is not your father’s Shortcake. The pinafore dress, yarn hair, and green and white-striped tights are gone. American Greetings senior creative consultant Cindy Moyer decided to put her in jeans and a t-shirt instead.

Cindy Moyer: She was very, very sweet in the original property, kind of one-dimensional. Now we see her, or we’ve positioned her to be more of a role model, very self-confident, kind of sassy, a little, a little spunkier.

Don’t worry though, she still smells like strawberries. And now, so do the Shortcake videos and DVDs. The new cartoon videos, just released in March, have already gone platinum. American Greetings projects that retail sales of Strawberry products will exceed $150 million by the end of the year. Not bad for a company that faced bankruptcy not long ago. The card company isn’t the only one cashing in on the 80s craze. Robert Sharp is a sales associate at Big Fun in Cleveland Heights. He says 80s kitsch has been a huge draw at the eclectic toyshop.

Robert Sharp: A lot of the people that grew up with this stuff in the 80s have graduated college and are working and they have a little bit extra disposable income to buy some of this stuff again. Also, a lot of the cartoons have gained popularity because stations like the Cartoon Network have reacquired the licenses to show these old shows. So you have all these people my age group and young kids, getting a chance to see these shows again and all these TV shows had huge toy lines attached.

Across the street at the novelty shop Green Tomato, owner Gayle Lewis has also seen a big 80s surge.

Gayle Lewis: It sells unbelievably. I sell underwear, bikinis, thong briefs, pajama bottoms, tank tops, regular t-shirts, hoodies. But Strawberry Shortcake, I mean, the girls, that’s their favorite.

Retail chains like Wal-Mart and Target are stocking up on the current lines of Shortcake and the Care Bears as a whole new generation is becoming acquainted with the characters. But for people like Christina Stewart, nothing will compare to the classic version - and the memories that go along with them.

Christina Stewart: We’re starting to have families of our own and we want our children to have the things we had, you know, when we were little and kind of go back to an innocence. I mean, there’s a real innocence about Strawberry Shortcake.

In Cleveland, Renita Jablonski, 90.3.

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