Shelves May Be Bare of Those Extra-Special, Pricey Gifts

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Looking for "Sex?"

If the photo book by Madonna is on your Christmas shopping list, you may have to settle for something else. Many bookstores say they have been sold out for weeks and don't expect new shipments until after the holidays--if then.

And parents searching for that last-minute Nintendo Gameboy or Sega CD video-game set may also find that their shopping lists have been zapped. Many major retail chains have sold their entire stocks.

Unexpectedly strong sales of some items have left many retailers without the gifts that shoppers want the most. In some cases, manufacturers could not keep up with demand. In others, the recession-riddled retailers, trying to avoid being stuck with unsold merchandise, simply didn't order enough.

"Batman. Anything Batman" has been flying off the shelves at Toy City in Costa Mesa, said store supervisor Dorene Wyzykowski. Supplies of Little Tykes Country Cottage dollhouses are gone, too.

But the store has a whole crop of Cabbage Patch Dolls, the sales hit of a few Christmases past. "This year, you probably can't give them away," Wyzykowski said.

Electronic video-game toys, which seemed to hit a price barrier last year, are on the move again. The hand-held $80 Nintendo Gameboy has been in big demand.

"It's a function of retailers' not anticipating demand. They just got caught short," said Bill White, a spokesman for Nintendo of America in Redmond, Wash.

In the case of full-size $150 Super Nintendo, many retailers are sold out and additional stock is not available, White said.

"We're not going to have any more of them in this Christmas," said James Austreng, manager of a Silo electronics store in Santa Ana.

Salesman Mario Mora at a Target store in Santa Ana said new shipments never last long.

"When we get those in, they sell out on the same day because they are so popular right now. We never know when we will get more," Mora said.

"I don't think any of the other stores have it, either," he said, noting that the Santa Ana location is getting calls from customers who say that the shelves are bare elsewhere. Some game cartridges, like "Street Fighter," are also gone from major stores.

Nintendo's White said the company conducted a survey in November and found that families planned to buy fewer gifts this year but to choose more expensive, long-lasting items. That trend is reflected in the increased demand for video games, he said.

The Sega CD peripheral for the Genesis system, an item that allows players to run sophisticated video games on their TV sets, has been so popular that its first shipment last month of 200,000 units to stores nationwide was sold in 48 hours.

Toys other than high-tech models are doing well, too. Barney the Dinosaur, a $15 facsimile of the star of a Public Broadcasting System children's show, has disappeared from Target Stores. "Barney has been big. He's hard to keep in stock," said Gail Dorn, spokeswoman for the Minneapolis-based retailer.

Booksellers say two tomes at opposite ends of the morality spectrum--Madonna's explicit photo book and thoughts by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh--are hard-to-find top sellers.

"Sex" sold out a month ago at the Rizzoli bookstore in Costa Mesa.

"For the 'Sex' book, I already got five calls today," store buyer Don Sechler said. The nearby Brentano's bookstore sold out last month.

The $50 Madonna book had a single, limited press run, said Donna Passannante, a spokeswoman for chains including B. Dalton, Scribner's and Bookstar in New York. She said she thinks that the publisher decided to make the book a collector's item, so the shortage is not unexpected.

"Everyone saw that coming," she said.

Times correspondent Mimi Ko contributed to this report.

Better Take These Off Your List

A November survey of consumer sentiment by Nintendo of America in Redmond, Wash., found that shoppers planned to purchase fewer gifts this holiday season but to choose more expensive, long-lasting items. Among the pricier merchandise already gone from most Orange County retailers' shelves are: * Sega CD video-game sets, $300. * Super Nintendo, $150. * Nintendo Gameboy, $80. * "Street Fighter" game cartridge, $70 * "Sex," the photo book by Madonna, $50.

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