Naperville Moms Helped Spark Beanie Baby Phenomenon

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Beanie Manie on HBO Max

“I call it the perfect storm and it could never happen again,” said Mary Beth Sobolewski. Beanie Babies sure did take the nation by storm in the 90s. And the ones who sparked the phenomenon were from right here in Naperville. HBO Max recently released a new documentary, Beanie Mania, that showcases the collection craze.

“When HBO Max called, it was so out of the blue. It’s something that I hadn’t done or thought of for a good 20 years. Life has so moved on,” said Sobolewski. “It was really fun going down memory lane.”

Sobolewski, who is a Naperville resident, first started collecting Beanie Babies after her daughter chose one as a souvenir while they were on vacation. Though her kids grew out of the plush toys, she kept the shopping going. “It wasn’t anything you planned, it wasn’t anything you aspired to. You just got swept up,” said Sobolewski.

Spark of Beanie Baby Phenomenon

A Lisle resident at the time, she connected with the Naperville moms through AOL chat rooms and stores they all frequented to get their hands on a toy. “The funny thing about the documentary, it made us look like we were all on the same cul-de-sac in Naperville which really wasn’t the case,” said Sobolewski.

While some of the key figures were cul-de-sac neighbors in town, Sobowski said it was more than a few of them that made the phenomenon grow. She believes the combination of the reasonable price point of $5, the fact that the plush toys had names and poems to connect with, and the different varieties all contributed to the 90s success of Ty Inc, who is behind Beanie Babies.

Sobowski collected from around 1994 to 2000. During those years, she was approached by a publisher to write about the toys. “So it was called Mary Beth’s Beanie World. Our first issue was 250,000 copies. It went all the way up to a million copies per month for a couple of months in the heyday,” said Sobolewski.

There were also Beanie Baby conventions with vendors selling tag protectors, display cases, and clothes. One was in Rosemont. “In fact Rosemont during that day of our convention called it Mary Beth’s Beanie World Convention. Go figure, right?” said Sobolewski. “I was like, where is this coming from? And I’m just a mom. In the beginning and in the end, I was just a mom.”

“Full Circle”

While she once had over 500 Beanie Babies, the one-time avid collector now only has a small collection of the ones most special, and some for her grandchildren to play with.

“It ran full circle. So here I am still a mom, and we’re still playing with our Beanie Babies and end of story,” said Sobolewski.

Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.