Download Vancouver 2010: Red Mitten Fever Goes National! video

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Vancouver 2010: Red Mitten Fever Goes National!

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  • Description: As of the first week of December 2009, 1-million pairs of red mittens have been sold. VANOC expects to well exceed 2-million in sales by the time the Games end.

    Canadians are smitten with mittens. Specifically, those ubiquitous red Olympic mittens that, not so long ago, seemed to be everywhere. Now, they are virtually sold out from coast to coast.

    The toasty hand-wear, costing just $10, has become the "it" gift for Christmas, bigger than Beanie Babies. At the Bay and Zellers stores across the country where the mittens are marketed, most days you can't snare a pair for love or money.

    Dana Hall, director of the Bay's flagship store in downtown Vancouver, says the craze for the red mitts is like nothing she's seen in 35 years of retailing. When new shipments arrive, there are mob scenes.

    "We don't even get time to take the mittens out of the box. People start swooping and surrounding them like piranhas," Ms. Hall said. "Some take the whole box, 48 pairs. Manufacturers can't make them fast enough. It's crazy. It's wonderful."

    In a sure sign that demand has exceeded supply, numerous listings for the mittens, emblazoned with a white maple leaf and the Olympic rings, are posted on eBay and Craigslist. One hopeful in suburban Surrey is seeking as much as $250 for his prized pair.

    This week, the downtown Bay store had mittens available - briefly - only on Sunday and yesterday, before they were snapped up by frenzied buyers. The rest of the time, shelves have been empty. "We're hoping to get more in on Friday," Ms. Hall said.

    Shortages are similar at Hudson's Bay Co. outlets across Canada, she said. "No one could have predicted it. The Beanie Baby fad was nowhere near this. It's a real phenomenon."

    At lunchtime, disappointed Vancouver shoppers searching for mittens echoed the cry of Oliver Twist, when he asked for a second helping.

    "I want some more," said Valerie York, who was returning in hopes of buying a second batch of mittens for her nieces and nephews.

    "They're the only thing I want. They're fun and affordable for everyone. The store should have been better prepared."

    Todd Hirsch, senior economist at ATB Financial in Calgary, said that the mittens, with their modest cost, are a perfectly priced item for tough times in the runup to Christmas.

    "The mittens have the iconic red of Canada, the Olympic rings and they're affordable. These days, you can't even buy lunch for $10," Mr. Hirsch said.

    "They're a comfort zone for people. They could be on that list that Julie Andrews sings about: 'A few of my favourite things.' It's pretty shrewd marketing."

    All told, Canadians have purchased more than 900,000 pairs of Olympic mittens, with Christmas still two weeks away.

    The unexpected bonanza has greatly cheered 2010 Winter Olympic organizers, who corral most of the proceeds and then funnel the funds to support Canadian athletes.

    Dennis Kim, VANOC's director of licensing and merchandising, said the original target was a million mitten sales.

    Now, organizers think they might sell twice that.

    "We've got an additional 500,000 pairs en route before Christmas, and we'll keep selling through the Olympics," Mr. Kim said.

    "Red mitten fever has gone national. Nova Scotia is sold out. Everywhere is sold out," he said.

    "Canadians have chosen this year to wear their hearts on their hands."

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