There are many trendy boutiques in the area for girls and women, but if you're 18 inches tall the place to go is Kay Jay's Doll Shoppe in Ocean City.
That's the height of the popular American Girl dolls, and half the store on Asbury Avenue is devoted to the dolls, their clothes, shoes, accessories and furnishings.
And we're not talking mass produced like the fashion stores for people – 90 percent of the clothes for these dolls are handmade and custom designed, said Katy Himes, who owns Kay Jay's with husband Rich.
Nine women sew doll clothes for the store, some in the area including Himes and one of her four daughters who help with the store, but also as far as Pennsylvania and Chicago, she said.
Himes posts pictures of clothes she likes on a Pinterest board online and her seamstresses make that design or their own version of the style. "At least it gives them an idea of what I want for the store."
This being Ocean City, America's Greatest Family Resort, resort wear is very popular.
Each year, Kay Jay's Doll Shoppe creates an Ocean City ensemble for American Girl dolls, including clothing with an Ocean City logo and accessories such as beach towels and beach toys. One year they even made hermit crabs scaled to the dolls.
"We recreate the Ocean City experience in miniature for the doll kingdom," Himes said.
The store started the resort ensembles in 2005, making 50 of them and selling out. Now it makes more than 400 each year. She said they sell for about $18, depending on what's in them.
"One year we included a little dolly beach tag and my daughter almost killed me," she said. Among the doll world fashion designers, repetitive work is boring and to be avoided if possible.
Among hot fashions for the 18-inch set right now are costumes from the Disney movie "Frozen."
"A customer asked if we can make 'Frozen' costumes and I asked one of our seamstresses, who said yes. She ended up buying six of them, and now we have a waiting list for 'Frozen' costumes," Himes said. "That's been a nice thing."
Always saying yes to customers is great when it works out, as it often does, but sometimes it's too much, she said.
"If someone wants or needs something, I'll find it no matter what. I take that upon myself and I shouldn't, but I can't help it," she said.
Another popular doll is the newborn available for adoption, swaddled as if just from the hospital and complete with birth certificate.
"Last summer we hit our 100th adoption of a doll by July," Himes said. "We're throwing confetti and releasing balloons and the little mommy was so excited."
Kay Jay's isn't all dolled up. There are also toys and games out for children to play with before deciding to buy, but no electronics nor weapons.
While the store caters to girls, it also has a section with trains, dinosaurs and such. "When the boys come in, they know their little spot to go and head to the back and play there," Himes said.
Domestic toy sales have been remarkably steady the past several years, holding a little above $20 billion annually, according to data compiled by NDP Group for the Toy Industry Association.
Last year, sales edged up $60 million to $22.09 billion from the year before. Spending on dolls was the same both years: $2.7 billion.
In New Jersey, the toy industry employed 11,256 people last year, and supported another 8,000 jobs through its purchases of services and materials, said a TIA report by John Dunham Associates.
Himes said dolls were always in her family, starting with her grandfather's doll store and hospital in center city Philadelphia from the 1940s to '60s.
Her late mom suggested opening the store, and they worked together at it every day for 23 years. "She was Kay Jay."
This time of year the shop is open Thursday through Sunday. By June it will go seven days a week, all the way to Christmas.
Lately Himes has been setting up an outfit-design contest on Facebook (for the prize, they'll make the outfit for the designer), and getting in a new Kathe Kruse doll with outfits girls can make without sewing.
"We're plenty busy," she said.
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