It's almost Christmas, but one company wants its fans thinking about chicks and bunnies _ year-round.
Just Born, maker of the chick- and bunny-shaped marshmallow Easter favorites called Peeps, is officially opening the first store devoted to them on Thursday. The shop, in a mall near Washington, D.C., sells 850 different Peeps products, including plush toys, china and even a hand-blown glass Peep.
"Our fans have asked us for years, 'What about a store?'" said Kathy Bassininski, who oversaw the creation of Peeps & Company stores for Just Born, based in Bethlehem, Pa.
Nearly 30 newspapers held Peeps diorama contests last Easter, and the company says 100,000 people are registered with its Peeps fan club.
The store is a monument to the marshmallows, with ultra yellow awnings, chick-shaped door handles and 3-D chick tile work behind the register. There are chick-shaped mousepads ($4.90), sweatshirts that say "DC Peeps" ($59.90), a 42-inch-tall plush Peep for $250 and the china, from 130-year-old tableware maker Lenox Corp., for $50 to $100 per piece. The one-of-a-kind Peeps artwork on the walls is also for sale.
Most of the offerings are not edible, but the store does sell the spongy chicks, which have a shelf life rivaling Twinkies' and were first produced in the 1950s. Bunnies in six colors later joined them, and the new store will stock seasonal marshmallow treats such as Valentine hearts and Christmas trees as well as other candies produced by the company.
Planning for the store at National Harbor, a mall and convention center just south of Washington that will someday house the National Children's Museum, began more than a year ago. Privately held Just Born, which also produces Hot Tamales and Mike and Ike, plans to expand an online store and possibly to other physical locations.
Other stores devoted to mega-brand candies exist, like Hershey's 7-year-old store in New York's Times Square. But Peeps followers take their devotion or distaste to extremes. Try searching online for "Peeps jousting"; it's a microwave sport.
Washington artist David Ottogalli, who repairs MRI equipment by day and has crafted artwork with Peeps for more than a decade, sometimes uses thousands of them in a single sculpture. Ottogalli, who made some of the work at the store, said he particularly remembers a woman who once watched him assemble a piece.
"Thank God you found something to do with those things other than eat them," she finally said.