March 21, 2011

American Dream

A local store is turning “gently used” American Girl dolls into big business and big smiles. 

Bryar Doherty, right, takes her new American Girl doll “Jess” for a test hug on Saturday as Pam Gani, left, looks on. The doll was Bryar’s birthday gift, thanks to her grandmother’s generosity and Gani’s ingenious new retail outlet that sells all things American Girl, gently used, at discounted prices. 
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Saturday was an important day for Bryar Doherty.
Turning 7 meant her birthday wish, for an American Girl doll, was finally coming true.
“She’s Asian-American. I love her because she has black hair and looks like my sister,” said Bryar, holding the 18-inch dark-haired beauty of a doll named Jess at arms length, taking in her pink sunglasses, almond-shaped eyes and tropical bikini.
“Brand new, the ‘whole world’ set, would run 400 to 500 dollars,” said Bryar’s mom, Stephanie Emerson, of Bedford, who will get the doll, her corresponding American Girl book, and assorted accessories
 for about $120, gently used. 

Bitty Babies, like this “gently used” pair for sale
at Pam Gani’s shop, are the starter dolls
 that lead doll lovers into the world of
American Girl dolls, which feature a line
of customizable dolls as well as historic dolls.
“Our average doll is 75 to 85 dollars,” said Pam Gani, who opened the all things American Girl resale store she calls Once Upon a Time in December. 
For something that happened rather quickly — part hunch, part happenstance — the store’s become a word-ofmouth sensation. 
She has yet to hang a sign out front of the two-story outlet on Rockingham Road, to the right at the peak of Ryan’s Hill heading south. 
Gani has relied mainly on Craigslist and the local mom information network to bring a steady stream of customers to her shop from as far away as Western Massachusetts and Vermont, just to check out her in-store inventory. 
“We were actually going to start an Internet-based consignment store — we’re avid eBayers. It was going to be women’s and children’s gently used clothing,” said Gani. 
Destiny had something else in store for Gani, a former information technology recruiter who has been reinventing herself ever since her industry dried up after 9/11. 
Having raised two boys as a single mom, Gani was totally out of the girl-trend loop. She had no idea that the American Girl doll line by Mattel has, for 25 years, dominated the doll scene. 
For the uninitiated, American Girl dolls can be custom made to your specifications — skin tone, hair and eye color, braces, endless outfits and accessories. There are also Bitty Babies and a historic line of dolls with a complete story line relayed in book form. 
Now that she has a 7-yearold daughter of her own, Gani was beginning to learn the ways of the American Girl dolls, and stumbled into a good deal on a historic Emily doll NIB (new in the box), thinking she might devote a corner of her store to reselling the dolls, if there was demand. 
“I wanted to test the waters, so I decided to donate the doll to my daughter’s PTA auction at Derry Village School for a fundraiser they were doing sort of a last-minute thing. They ended up with 3,500 raffle tickets in the coffee can for that doll,” Gani said. 
She recognized an opportunity to sell the popular dolls at sensible prices. Naming the store Once Upon a Time has a double meaning for Gani. On the surface, these dolls once belonged to someone else and are now going to have a second chance. 
“It’s also because they are really different kinds of dolls than when I was growing up. 
Each one has an identity and an adventure. They aren’t sitting around waiting for some knight in shining armor to come save them — so it’s sort of my way of saying that ‘once upon a time’ story line I grew up with is nothing but fiction,” Gani said. 
While the dolls are the anchor, it’s hard to make money on them at the prices she’s reselling them for. Using her former head-hunter skills, Gani specializes in retired dolls and hard-to-find accessories, which she expects will be the gravy. 
“Once I get a collection in from a collector, I do some Internet- based consignment on the back end, and then sell the rest in the store,” said Gani. 
Many of her starter dolls came from local teenagers who had outgrown their interest in the collectible dolls — feeder dolls for the next generation of little girls. 
She is not alone in her endeavor. As her luck would have it, Lynda Wollen of Nashua came along. 
“I’m an avid doll collector and American Girl doll fan myself,” said Wollen. “I found Pam’s business on Craigslist. 
But I also repair dolls, and since Pam and I both have young daughters, we just clicked.” 
Twice a month Wollen sets up a “hospital” inside Gani’s store. 
“We call her ‘the doctor.’ For 25 dollars, she will clean up your doll, rebraid their hair, restring them. Unlike the American Girl hospital, she won’t charge an arm and a leg for fixing an arm or a leg,” said Gani. 
Wollen said that while there are some fixes beyond her ability — the company smartly cornered the market on using impossible to match eyes and limbs — she can still make magic with a well-worn doll. 
One of her sidelights is working for a local cleaning service restoring dolls that have been damaged in fires and floods. 
“There are so many dolls that get thrown aside when all they need is a little work. 
They can be fixed up and loved again,” Wollen said. 
In yet another unexpected partnership, Gani is launching a monthly workshop for girls and their dolls. “Mem’s Attic” begins March 26 at 10 a.m. 
with Denise Berard of Haverhill, Mass., a success coach who enjoys the fine art of being a grandmother. 
For $20, each attendee will have a tea party experience with all the trimmings, along with some etiquette and manners, and a take-home craft. 
“What I will do is a spin on a tea party. In addition to learning how to set a table properly for a tea party, this month the girls will also be learning how to design and make a necklace for themselves and their dolls, and we’ll be painting a jewelry box for the dolls,” Berard said. 
“Intermingled, there will be a little bit of virtue as well. 
I have my Ph.D in pastoral psychology, so this month we will focus on kindness and talk about why it’s so much fun to be kind.” 
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