by Dan Zeff
Chicago –American Girl allows its customers to virtually create a lifestyle for each doll. For the outdoors doll, there is the great outdoors tent and a hiking outfit. For the horse loving doll, how about a stable with swinging doors and supplies like a make believe water trough and hay bales? For the musical doll there is a baby grand piano ($150) and cello and guitar sets. Maybe the most impressive accessory is Julie’s Car Wash, consisting of a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle that can seat two dolls plus a working radio ($350). For the doll’s home environment the girl can select from an elaborate line of furniture, including a dining room set, beds and bedding, and chrome 1940’s style table and chairs.
The sales staff will be happy to arrange shipping for their young clients. Depending on the indulgence of the adults accompanying the children, a little girl can run up a considerable tab. The initial purchase of a doll can be considered a starter kit for additional purchases as the doll owner acquires clothing and other accessories. It’s possible to visit an American Girl store and leave without buying anything, but the likelihood is minimal to zero.
An American Girl outlet is more than shopping opportunity. Customers can make reservations to dine on the premises, with separate menus for brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. The meal is an experience beyond the consumption of food. Girls and their dolls dine together at the table, with management providing miniature high chairs and eating utensils so the girls can mime feeding their little companions. The menu is surprisingly sophisticated. The girls aren’t fobbed off on tater tots and chicken nuggets. Items on the menu, depending upon the meal, include eggs benedict, cheese and sun-dried cranberries quiche, a chicken cobb sandwich, chocolate chip scones, and herb-Dijon crusted tilapia. Dining isn’t obligatory. Visitors can roam the store without going to a restaurant, and snacks are available for purchase separately.
The store provides all kinds of collateral services. The children can have their pictures taken with their dolls at a special photo studio. They can make a hair styling appointment for their dolls at a hair salon. If the doll has sustained an injury, a doll hospital is available to make repairs. And when the girls visit the restroom, the dolls can be secured on special hooks while their owners are otherwise engaged.
American Girl constantly introduces new dolls. Earlier dolls often go “in the vault,” meaning they are discontinued. These dolls can become collector’s items and command high prices on the open market. But girls typically bond with their dolls to the point that they wouldn’t think of parting with them, even as the girls age into their teens and beyond. My granddaughter bought a doll several years ago. She is now in high school and her doll playing days are over. But she’s carefully put her American Girl doll away, intending to pass it one day to a daughter of her own.
The Chicago American Girl store is located at 835 North Michigan Avenue. Hours are Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For information and dining reservations call (877) 247-5223. Meal reservations should be made well in advance of a visit.
A rating of 4 stars.