American Girl:

by Lisa Perkis, staff writer

A new attraction recently opened in Southern California that rivals the Disney Company for the affections of girls ages 3-12. Calling itself an "experiential retail site," The American Girl Place at The Grove in Los Angeles will be a tempting side trip for families with little girls visiting Disneyland.

For those of you without daughters, granddaughters, nieces, cousins, or next door neighbors, American Girl is one of the hottest brands available to kids right now. The Pleasant Company started out in 1985 with a catalogue of historical dolls and books, growing to include baby dolls, and current-day dolls. After ten years of catalogue business, was launched and sales exploded, with over 13.6 million hits per year on the site. The Pleasant Company was purchased by Mattel in 1998. The company has now sold over 105 million American Girl books, and over 11 million dolls. Priced at around $90.00 each, these dolls are not your standard Wal-mart toys—we're talking serious money. Additionally, American Girl magazine has a circulation of more than 650,000—making it the nation's eighth largest children's magazine and the largest publication dedicated exclusively to girls ages eight and up. The company is even branching into television: the Samantha and Felicity movies, produced by Julia Roberts' production company Red Om Films, attracted millions of viewers and are selling briskly on DVD.

For years, the only physical store available for fans of American Girl was in Chicago. Moms and daughters would fly in from all over the country to the Mecca of doll stores. In 2003 American Girl New York opened, but girls on the West coast had nothing but their catalogue and Web site to keep them happy until April of this year. 40,000 square feet of pure bliss for the American Girl fan opened to much fanfare at the swanky outdoor mall called The Grove, about 45 minutes north of Disneyland (barring traffic). We paid a visit to the store soon after it opened to see if it could possibly live up to our expectations.

How many stores offer concierge service to their guests? Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The first floor of the American Girl place is reserved for the bookstore, the hair salon and magazine cover studio, and American Girl Today, the contemporary line of dolls and accessories.

American Girl publishes short chapter books to coordinate with each historical doll it sells, as well as contemporary novels and non-fiction books. The Body Book for Girls has sold more than 1.5 million copies since 1998. We have a copy. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Meet Jess, the American Girl Doll of the Year. She's yours (plus accessories!) for a mere $150. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

We didn't spend too much time on the first floor, as the theater upstairs was about to open. We had tickets for The American Girls Revue and didn't want to be late.

Almost every girl who visits the store brings her own doll, decked out in her finest attire. Samantha attended all the day's festivities with Charlotte. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

I had no idea what to expect from The American Girl Revue, and was pleasantly surprised at the high quality and professionalism of the show. The cast consisted of eight girls and four adults who portrayed each historical doll's story in short vignettes with lots of singing and dancing thrown in for good measure. The actors were just steps away from the girls, who sat mesmerized throughout the whole show. I highly recommend it.

The small theatre seats 133 guests and the show lasts approximately 75 minutes. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

After the show, we settled down to the business of shopping. The girls had saved up Christmas money, birthday money and American Girl gift certificates in anticipation of the trip, and had some serious money to spend. Good thing, too—American Girls and their endless accessories are anything but cheap.

It's very hard to explain the feeling I had walking around the historical doll section. I think I love these silly dolls even more than my kids. I've been receiving AG catalogues since they have been published—before I was even married or had children. To see all the dolls in one place, displayed in such a beautiful way, was an emotional experience for me. Maybe it's the feeling that Trekkies get when they go to a convention or when superhero fans attend Comic-Con. More likely the way Disney fans feel when they pass through the tunnel to Main Street; they've come home.

The second floor of the store is mainly dedicated to the historical dolls. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Each historical doll has her own little room with all of the accessories and clothes displayed. At the entrance to each room is a little display of life-size furniture depicting a scene from the time period.

Charlotte examines the Felicity case. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

After some careful deliberation, Charlotte selected Felicity, a Colonial-era doll, and some clothes to go with her. Emma decided to ask for a new doll for her birthday at the end of summer, and settled for some new accessories and outfits for Kit, her Depression-era doll. She also picked out an American Girl T-shirt for herself and the CD of the play we had just seen.

The girls show Nana their purchases. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Felicity was taken out of the box in mere minutes. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Next on the schedule: The American Girl Café. The Café serves brunch, afternoon tea, and dinner, and we assembled in the waiting area to be seated for dinner. Each child's doll has a place of honor in their own special seat, with her own cup and saucer. If a child did not bring a doll with her, she can borrow one from the large collection provided for exactly that purpose.

All yours… for one hour. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Samantha awaits her first course. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The dining room is decorated in black and white, with dark pink accents. The staff is extremely attentive, and the meal is served efficiently and quickly.

The food is kid-friendly and beautifully plated. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Charlotte gives Felicity a refill on her ice water. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The meal was served in four courses; as a delicious finale, each person received a beautiful dessert plate with whimsical treats such as a flowerpot trifle made with pudding and Oreo crumbs and a small cake shaped like a butterfly. Charlotte had a candle on hers, as she was celebrating a belated birthday.

Special birthday packages are also available at the Café with prior reservations. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

After our meal it was time for one last stop. American Girl thoughtfully provides a hair salon for the dolls who are having bad hair days, usually due to over-earnest brushing by her "mama." Girls can pick from a handful of hair styles and receive tips from the stylists about how to keep the dolls hair from becoming giant rat's nests.

It's a hair emergency for this poor doll. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

The stylist recommended Char use a wet toothbrush to smooth Samantha's tangled tresses. I'm fairly certain Char realized the stylist was taking about a different toothbrush than the one she used that morning. Photo by Lisa Perkis.

Pocketbooks empty and arms full of elegant red shopping bags, we headed toward the car and our long drive home. I had originally told the girls that this would be a once in a lifetime trip, but after spending such a memorable day at American Girl Place, I have a feeling we will visit again soon. Hey, my birthday is coming up, you know.

From Disneyland to The American Girl Place.
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