OXON HILL, Md. - It's almost Christmas, but a Bethlehem, Pa., company wants its fans thinking about chicks and bunnies - year-round.
Just Born Inc., maker of the chick- and bunny-shaped marshmallow Easter candy favorites called Peeps, is officially opening today the first store devoted to them. The shop, in a mall near Washington, sells 850 Peeps products, including plush toys, china, and even a handblown glass Peep.
"Our fans have asked us for years, 'What about a store?' " said Kathy Bassininski, who oversaw the creation of Peeps & Co. stores for Just Born.
The store is a monument to the marshmallows, with ultrayellow awnings, chick-shaped door handles, and 3-D chick tile work behind the register. There are chick-shaped mouse pads ($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 in Prince Georges County, Md., 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 megabrand candies exist, such as Hershey Co.'s seven-year-old store in New York's Times Square. But Peeps followers take their devotion or distaste to extremes. Try searching online, for instance, for "Peeps jousting."
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 remembered 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.