The strange story of the Cabbage Patch Kid Riots of 1983

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Friday, November 18, 2022
Flashback: The Cabbage Patch Kids riots of 1983!
The Cabbage Patch Kid dolls were so scarce and demand was so high that riots broke out in stores.

NEW YORK -- In November 1983, America went bonkers for Cabbage Patch Kids. The dolls were so scarce and demand was so high that riots broke out in stores, parents were ready to drive hundreds of miles to buy them, and desperate gift-givers were willing to pay big bucks for a rare doll.

At a Zayre department store in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a riot broke out, with a store manager grabbing a baseball bat to protect himself. "This is my life that's in danger," William Shigo was quoted as saying in the New York Times.

Archival video of the event, shown in the player above, shows pandemonium at the store, with boxes containing Cabbage Patch Kids being flung about.

The dolls, designed by Xavier Roberts, were "born" in a cabbage patch, according to the backstory, and buyers would "adopt" them, an act certified with an official-looking document that came with the toy.

At a New York-area Toys R Us, WABC spoke to parents who were desperate for the dolls. A handful of them got to the store in time, but in a matter of minutes, Josh Howell reports, it was over. The dolls were sold out.

One woman told Channel 7 she was calling her sisters in Nebraska and Illinois to see if they could get her a doll. Or she would drive to Pennsylvania. If that failed, she was going to reach out to a niece in California.

At the Rowe-Manse Emporium in Clifton, New Jersey, the dolls were selling for $50, well above the retail price of $21, and there was no shortage of willing buyers.

The emporium set up a trading post where lucky owners of the doll could double their money if they'd bought the toy at retail price, selling them for $40. Rowe-Manse would then sell the dolls again for a tidy $10 profit.

"By the time I go looking in stores, it will cost me $30 in gas and aggravation," reasoned one woman who had just bought the doll at the inflated price at the trading post.

The mania eventually subsided as other hot toys came along, but nothing that followed, including the hysteria for Beanie Babies and Tickle Me Elmo, was quite so dramatic.

Enjoy more throwbacks with the Eyewitness News Vault on YouTube.

This story was originally published in November 2019.