A brave yet curmudgeonly man visits The American Girl Store.

December 8, 2007 | By | 19 Replies More

 My daughter has a doll called Kaya.  I really don’t mind this doll at all, although many dolls aggravate me.  Most dolls are unabashedly materialist.  Kaya genuinely seemed to be an earnest survivor–a native American just trying to get by.  American Girl did a great job with Kaya. She is hardworking (according to the books that describe her tales) as well as gorgeous.  My oldest daughter (aged 9) admires Kaya for the right reasons.  Meet Kaya.


Well . . . my daughter and I traveled to Chicago to have a special father-daughter vacation.  My daughter asked to visit the Chicago American Girl Store.  I quickly agreed.  It was her vacation too, and I like to believe that I am an armchair anthropologist.  Therefore, I’m always at work. 

If you have trouble finding the store in Chicago, ask anyone walking down the Magnificent Mile and they’ll tell you.  The American Girl store is a major Chicago institution.

I just assumed that I knew what kind of merchandise was in the store, but I was wrong.  There is a lot more to American Girl than brave little Kaya.  There are all kinds of dolls, including trendy, preppy, smug, materialist little dolls.  And how dare I call what they sell “merchandise”!

                           2 for 200.jpg

Here’s a slogan prominently displayed throughout the store: Those dolls are “just like you.”  Just like me?   Oh, I suppose they weren’t really talking to me.   But those dolls are supposedly just like all those little girl customers.   You’ll recognize those girls by the way they drag their parents around the store and convince their parents to pull out their credit cards for those expensive accessories–even Kaya has lots of accessories, including a set of plastic food for $20.

               Shes just like you.jpg

“Just like you.”  What does that really mean?  It means that the professional staff of the store can match those dolls up with your daughter’s physical traits.  It also means that you can buy matching clothes for your daughter and her doll(s). By the way, that staff does include more than a few young men.  Men who aren’t afraid to play with (or at least sell) dolls.  The staff can match you up with your doll-counterpart fairly easily, because they have dozens of potential matches:

        Just like you group.jpg   

If you have medium brown colored skin, they have a $100 doll for you.  I asked one of the staff whether they match up the personality with each girl’s personality.  She looked confused, then laughed and said “no.”  Those dolls are a lot like you–except (and don’t tell this to any of the little girls) they are plastic and not alive.  Don’t tell that to anyone at the store, because they spend their energy succdessfully convincing the girls otherwise.  The store has a big theater where real people portray the dolls in elaborate productions.   Each ticket to one of these productions is about $26.  

Ooops.  Did your doll have a bad hair day?  If so, you’ll need to take her to the American Girl Salon, for a $20 hair styling:

        Doll Hair Salon.jpg

If your doll loses her head (or arm), you can take her to the American Girl Hospital.  They don’t make housecalls and they don’t have an ambulance that comes out to the scene of the accident.   But they are great doctors, according to the young female clerk.  I asked whether any of the patients have died at the hospital and she gave me a nervous laugh.


I asked her whether those “Restrooms” mentioned on the sign are for the dolls or for the girls.  She told me that they are restrooms for girls, though those restrooms include special accommodations for the dolls in the restroom, some sort of doll lounge, so that the girls don’t need to take the dolls into the stalls.  Speaking of lounging, it’s been a long day, so the dolls need to rest a bit.


And now it’s time to have a meal.  How about one of those $20 per person meals at the American Doll Cafe?

                       cafe entrance.jpg

Where does your doll sit?  Right next to you, of course.   American Doll provides special seats for the dolls, right at your table.

                       special seats.jpg

Don’t put your doll too close to that Banana Flambé, or it might be right back to the Doll Hospital for you best friend. 

Do you have any other questions? If so, check with the American Girl Store Concierge.


If you have questions after-hours, call anyway.  Maybe one of those little dolls will pick up the phone and talk to you.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (19)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    The woman who created the American Girl product line used to live not far from where I do. The whole thing apparently began many years ago when she made a very nice hand-made doll as a gift for the daughter of a friend. Soon other friends were asking for similar dolls for their daughters and the idea began to take off. Production went from a garage shop to ever larger production facilities. Eventually…about a decade ago…the Mattel toy company bought out the business for hundreds of millions of dollars and gave the American Girl founder a VP job at Mattel. Soon thereafter there was a falling out between the parties and the founder — who apparently was quite a ruthless businessperson and a real jerk to work for — either left or was forced out.

    The basic business model was to sell premium-quality, premium-priced dolls to little girls who had parents with lots of disposable income — especially parents who perhaps felt guilty for spending too much time at work and too little time with their daughters. The company apparently became very good at separating those parents from large chunks of money, though as I recall the profit motive — while always a driving force for the company founder — became even more intense after the Mattel acquisition.

    I have no idea what the founder did after leaving Mattel, or even if she still owns the huge lake-front house she lived in before moving to Mattel.

  2. Vicki Baker says:

    American Doll provides special seats for the dolls, right at your table

    If your doll loses her head (or arm), you can take her to the American Girl Hospital

    Doll cuisine and doll medicine… as I recall, these used to be things little girls did for themselves. Are even kids outsourcing these days?

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Vicki: Nice point, which reminds me that the parents have completely taken over organizing and refereeing their children's sports activities too. I used to spend many dozens of hours each summer playing sports with friends. How often does that happen in any self-respecting suburbs these days?

  4. Erich: As the father of a girl (she's 17 now) I am familiar with the American Girl line of products. Being only of modest means, I couldn't buy ALL the accessories that my little emotional manipulator desired but I remember her begging me for the doll and then the accompanying books and outfits at the time. I also recall at what a young age she was captured by this materialistic fervor. I think she was only 7 or 8 a the time.,..maybe younger.

    I find it hard to believe that the media and society were able to program her to be so materialistic at such a young age. I don't think they had enough time, or that she was paying enough attention yet for them to create such a strong demand in a 7 year old. Rather it seems that there might be an innate urge to aquire things that American Girl and more famously that icon of shallow materialism, Barbie, have merely learned to exploit.

  5. By the way, Erich: How did you get permission to take pictures in the store? I tried to videotape in a Toys R Us recently and was nearly tackled to the ground by the manager.

  6. Tim Hogan says:

    Just say "No!" It's a radical proposition but, you can visit the American Doll Stoe, have fun and not drop the GDP of Zimbabwe. My daughter went up to Chicago with my wife, and two other mothers and daughters and they had a blast at the American Doll Store, visited the Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Natural History and the Art Institute of Chicago.

    Upon arrival home, I de-briefed my daughter, sent her to work for two weeks shoveling cow dung in a nearby rice paddy and breathed a sigh of relief upon her return when she went back to school wearing her amband protesting the conflict in Iraq.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Mike: Whether I would be allowed to take the photos in the store certainly occurred to me prior to going. Erika Price had raised this same issue regarding two posts I wrote about the magazines and books sold by Wal-Mart (see here and here).

    Here's how I approached it. I was a legitimate customer (I actually bought some accessories for my daughter's Kaya doll during the visit when I took the photos).  [note to Tim Hogan: they were relatively inexpensive accessories] [Note to my daughter who now reads fairly well: they were significant purchases]. Because I was in the store to actually shop, I had the right to be where I was. I didn't see any prohibition regarding taking photos–no signs told me to not take a photo. American Girl is also somewhat of a tourist hot spot, and I'm sure I'm not the first person to snap a few pics. I am pretty unobtrusive–I've got it down to a quick procedure that starts with having a small camera hanging–ready to go–around my neck. I avoid taking the images of any customers. I'm sure it's easier and less threatening to use a still camera than that video camera you must be using.

    If confronted, I would be polite and explain what I was doing, and cease if they asked me to cease–after all, I'm in the store as an "invitee" (legally speaking), and my status as a permissive user can be withdrawn at the discretion of the store, as long as it's not for a Constitutionally protected reason (e.g., race, religion). If I got desperate, I could even take out my ID Card showing that I'm an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church!  That would give me some immunity, right?  On the practical side of the issue, why wouldn't they want me looking around and memorializing all of that exotic merchandise? I might tell others about the things I saw. I might thus be an unwitting advertiser.

    I had a bit more luck than you did in Toys R Us.

    I think that the bottom line is that a store might not care in a practical sense, as long as amateur anthropologists like you and I are inobtrusive and we avoid intruding on the rights of other customers. Otherwise, to the extent that a business disallows customers to take photos of the things they are selling, I do wonder– What do they have to hide?

    Speaking of which, I was stranded in Las Vegas from September 11-13, 2001 (I had been visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and was trying to fly home from LV on 9/11/01). I would not advise walking around any casino with a camera. I merely snapped one photo of a band that was playing near an entrance to the massive MGM Grand, when a 6' 5" security guard appeared suddenly and rudely scolding me to put the camera away immediately.  Back then, I remember thinking too bad our airports didn't have this kind of aggressive security guard working on 9/11.

    I would have loved to take some photos of the customers at the casinos, but didn't want to invade their privacy and the security guy clearly gave me the message. What fascinated me was that so many people were willing to do frivolous things at a casino on the same day when the so many Americans died in a horrible tragedy and it SEEMED that civilization as we knew it was ending (based on the news reports). But there they were, gambling, drinking, laughing. The casinos were not completely full on the evening of 9/11/01, but they seemed to be at least half full, a fact that was verified by some employees to whom I spoke.  What kind of person goes to a casino to have fun on the evening of 9/11/01, I wondered.

  8. I think my pro gear is too intimidating. (See my DI pic.) I need to get a small consumer videocam so that I look like any other tourist or overzealous dad videotaping everything he sees.

    I don't mean YOU, Erich!

  9. Erich Vieth says:

    Mike: I haven't shot any video in any store (yet). I would think that the process of holding a video camera up to your face for minutes at a time would really make you conspicuous, especially if you are using pro gear. My method was to just pull out a small digital camera for a quick shot here and there. It was over almost before it began. But then again, I don't have any cool video to show for my efforts.

    Thanks for the disclaimer, Mike. But I'm afraid that I might sometimes qualify as both a tourist (a very touristy tourist) and an overzealous dad. I did NOT drop a big wad of money at the American Girl store, however . . .

  10. In order to get more natural interviews and candid footage I have perfected a way of surreptitiously shooting video using the side viewscreen in such a way that my subject never knows if the camera is on or not. I never lift it to my face. I would still need something less conspicuous than my GL2 to shoot in Toys R Us but I'm sure I could pull it off without too much fanfare if I had a smaller camcorder. If I don't get arrested I'll let you know how it works out!

    By the way, I started my videography business as a way of justifying my own overzealousness! Now I'm a "documentary filmmaker" and not just old annoying Uncle Mike who videotapes everything.

  11. Erich Vieth says:

    Mike: Why not just go all out and call yourself "Vice-President of Documentary Film-making"?

  12. Erich: I should! Michael Jackson did it! HE was the first person to call himself The King of Pop, and the media picked it up. Then Howard Stern called himself The King of All Media and again they picked it up!

    So…who's the "President"? Michael Moore??

  13. Erich Vieth says:

    I only said VP because that's the title that banks hand out so often. Since it's your company, you can be the Emperor, if that's what you think will fly. If you call yourself VP, though, people will think that your company has at least two employees.

  14. katherine says:

    american girl dolls are great friends for your daughters. I have some(im 10) and they are super fun! at the doll place in Chicago the dolls are treated like the girls because they are what the store sells and off of all of these fun services for the dolls and girls, the company makes money to keep the girls happy. For girls AG stores are fun places you can go to have fun wit your doll. So what if their plastic, would your daughter be mad if she read this article you wrote? YAH! BAD DAD! you are limiting your daughters creativeness !BAD! !BAD! !BAD! !DAD!

  15. Lehua says:

    Yikes! My daughter is only 22 months old, but I cringe thinking about the days ahead when advertising and consumerism may affect her more. The problem with the American Girls stuff is that it is SO DARN CUTE and friggin' expensive! I think the hair salon and the doll hospital are such cute ideas. But it seems so wrong to charge so much money! My own home is set up like a mini children's museum, with lots of opportunities for pretend play. Lately, I have been thinking about setting up a one-of-a-kind doll hospital (pretend, no actual repairs) and beauty salon, and county office where kids can apply for birth certificates. It would be more of a punk rock beauty salon, and more of a free clinic than a hospital, etc. I would only be open a few days a week and ask for a $1 donation. Or not.

  16. Reasa says:

    No offence to parents as being a child myself ……im 14….But I had an american girl doll….and i do realize dolls are expensive….But…You have to realize they are very good….the perfect things are made with it ….plus the hair Can have HIGLIGHTS come on….your child wants to be just like a plastic doll….Let your kids live a little i mean my hair is pink i also think american girl dolls should be aloud to have makeup…..i think it would be a cute idea…..:P i mean u may think im retartedd cause im a Kid….But comone…..people are people and kids are kids let them live

  17. iRENE says:

    I love American girl!!! I am now waiting for my doll… My friend says: HOws it brave 4 a man to go into an American girl store? Now i say back: Well i bet the man was scared of girl stuff? Soo… BIII

  18. Jenny says:

    I was super excited when the American Girl place opened in my state (CO), but was horrified when my best firend and i saw the hair salon. It cost 16.00 to get your doll's hair braided! However, there are so many items that American Girl sells that are worth the prices. Most of the items are quality made, and are really reslistic. My parents make me pay for whatever accessories I want for my doll (which i think is just fine because they already pay for my school stuff, my house, and my clothes! Plus, i don't get allowance, which also doesn't bother me, because i agree with my mom: you shouldn't get payed for doing things you should already do, such as dishes and laundry. Our parents are not the resident maids!). Because i pay for my own doll stuff, I decide for myself if it's worth the money to me, how much i'll actually play with it, and how much i'm willing to spend. I'm very happy with my dolls and the things they have from American Girl (by the way i'm 12), and it's fun to collect mini things that fit her and aren't from American Girl so are much less expensive. Also, you don't need to be rude to the employees at the stores, as you were implying in the sentences: "By the way, that staff does include more than a few young men. Men who aren’t afraid to play with (or at least sell) dolls." Um… in case you didn't notice, the economy's not to swell right now! There is nothing wrong with guys working at a doll shop, it's a job and they do it and therefore they can pay for food. Another thing: all of the dolls are not materialistic! First of all, the historical dolls (which inxludes Kaya) have a backstory which is explained about. The books that are written about each historical character/doll include the historical events and the culture of each girl in a way that relates to kids, because the characters are our age. So these dolls can be educational as well as fun! Second of all, it's fun to have someone to do everything with. As many girls don't have sisters they're really close to or can't be with thier friends all the time, these dolls are fun to share expiriences with (especially for younger girls.) You can take your doll to the thetre wearing her special dress and shawl. I don't know how exactly to explain this to an adult (much less a dad) but your doll can really understand you, can be excited about the things you're excited about. And yes, i do realize the dolls are plastic. However, kids are using thier imaginations when they play with dolls, to bring them to life. And since you can't exactly buy a real friend to live with you, I guess dolls are the next best thing. Oh, and before I go, we play sports in our neighborhood all the time (and i'm pretty sure we're a self respecting suburb area).

    I hope I wasn't rude while rebutting your statments, just trying to voice my own opinion! 🙂

    Merry Christmas, God Bless

  19. S. says:

    I can totally understand how some adults may find these expensive dolls sort of a joke and a clear example of consumerism and the need to buy buy buy and “collect them all!” with expensive extras like a doll salon ect. But… you see, a lot of time, effort, and artistic talent goes into creating these dolls and accessories. These aren’t just a $5 Barbie they’re so much more than that. These are collectable heirloom quality dolls to be kept for years and years. I’ve heard some little girls work and save up to buy their own dolls and being able to finally reach that goal to afford a beautiful doll is very rewarding. A trip to the AG store is like a luxury. Others may take their little girl in there and just spend crazy money without a care. It really depends on what the parents are trying to teach their child if that makes sense. Also, for a little girl… dolls are like a real friend. Yeah, so a doll isn’t real… but to a little girl they are very real and need care and attention just like a real person. To have a Doll like you means a lot to a little girl. It’s sort of a comfort thing to have a friend that understands, likes what you like, and is a mini version of you. It’s very sweet. Girls want to feel special and there’s nothing wrong with it every once in awhile. I can’t explain anymore that. I feel that if it makes her happy then it’s worth it. I don’t believe in down right spoiling her rotten by buying out the whole store and turning her into a brat, but… to have a doll and the experience of being special is something very sweet. just let the girl have her dolly day before she grows up for goodness sakes.

Leave a Reply