Originally created 12/20/96

Augustans wait for Elmo investments to pay off



At these prices, Elmo - or somebody - should be tickled.

On a pedestal that looks more like an auction block, Tickle-Me Elmo is commanding prices up to $500 in the Augusta area, fueled by the desire of parents who really, really want to bring home the season's hottest toy.

Advertised on the Internet and in the newspaper, the fuzzy red Sesame Street denizen, who giggles and shakes when you press his tummy, is going for hundreds of dollars on the black market.

One potential seller, Brian Carlson of Augusta, didn't even bother to list a price in his classified advertisement in The Augusta Chronicle.

"Will take highest bidder," his ad coaxes.

If you're interested in Mr. Carlson's Elmo - purchased before Halloween by an expectant grandmother, but still safely ensconced in the original box - you only have until today to make an offer, he said. Today, he decides who gets the doll, which actually belongs to his 2-month-old son, he admitted.

"I figure I'll wait until it comes back in stock after the holidays and buy another one," he said. "So he'll get another Elmo doll, plus have a little extra."

Like Mr. Carlson, Martinez resident Michelle Mertz and her husband raided the toy box for the Elmo they're offering for $200 - or the best offer. Mrs. Mertz said her sister-in-law bought the doll as a Christmas gift for the Mertzes' 2-year-old daughter before the Elmo craze started.

The couple plans to buy another Elmo doll in a few months for the little girl's birthday and bank the rest of the money in a college fund, she said.

"We really put the ad in the paper to see what would happen," she said. "We didn't think we'd get that much response. We've gotten 30 calls since Saturday."

At $200, the Mertz's Elmo is a steal. Of a dozen classified ads in The Chronicle, most have listed prices of $300-$500 or promised to accept the best offer. Internet postings also carry tales of Elmos sold for hundreds of dollars above his $26.99 retail price, and the going rate in Atlanta is up to $2,000.

"I kind of feel bad doing it," said Grovetown resident Tracy Genova, who's advertising a $500 Elmo. "I've got 18-month-old twins and a 3-year-old who know nothing about it. If they knew about it, I could never sell it. But they're going to be abundant, come January."

Most people who call say they're willing to pay $500 for Elmo, although one caller tried to cut the price down by $50, Mrs. Genova said. One man called to make sure the doll was still available before he set to work scraping up the money.

Others aren't quite as willing to turn their pockets inside out - an advertiser who identified herself only as Jean said she'd only gotten offers as high as $60.

"One lady was right mean about it," Jean said. "She wanted to know what I was asking, and when I told her I was taking the best offer, she said, `You're just trying to make a fortune off them,' and hung up.

"Another woman called and said she wanted to buy it because she heard someone else calling about it, and she didn't like him, she didn't want him to have it."

With Christmas fast approaching, and few of the dolls on store shelves, parents are eager to hunt down one of the critters, even if it means shelling out big bucks.

And the black market might be their only hope.

Kmart stores in Augusta, Martinez and North Augusta have no Elmos, although more might come in before Christmas, said employees with crossed fingers. Toys R Us and Kay-Bee Toys, as well as Wal-Mart stores in Augusta, Martinez and North Augusta are out of the dolls and don't expect any more shipments before Christmas, workers said.

"It's on a `Don't have, probably won't get' list," one employee said with a laugh.