Step aside, Zhu Zhu Pets -- there's a new super fad in town. Kids, parents and grandparents are scouring stores and the Internet to get their hands on rubbery little bands shaped like monkeys, French fries, sea animals and princesses.
While there are several companies that make the bands, the best known is Silly Bandz, from BCP Imports of Toledo, Ohio.
"I felt strongly that they would be popular, but the craze that surrounds the Silly Bandz product line right now is simply amazing," said BCP owner Robert Croak.
"Two years ago ... one of my factory reps showed me a shaped rubber band that a Japanese designer created as an office product. I felt that if we molded them larger and thicker, they would be awesome as bracelets."
Croak said his company receives hundreds of letters from fans each week that include hand-drawn suggestions for future designs.
Carly Cundiff and her friends were recently gathered around the kitchen table inside her Wadsworth, Ohio, home. The girls, their wrists decorated with multicolored bracelets, dug through a new delivery of Bama Bandz. When the shapes are stretched, they easily fit the wrists of children and adults. When removed, they snap back into the shape.
"It's something to collect without having to spend a lot of money," explained 14-year-old Grace Rhodes.
Depending on the brand, a package of 24 costs about $5 in stores. Buying them online can be more expensive when factoring in shipping costs.
Recognizing the popularity of the bands, Carly and her mom, Jeanne, seized the opportunity to raise some money to help pay for a class trip next year to Spain and France. During a craft show, they sold the bands for 50 cents apiece. Of the 1,000 they took to the show, they sold 984.
"It was like a feeding frenzy of piranha," the 14-year-old said, explaining that people lined up three deep at her booth. "It was almost violent."
At My Little Red Wagon, Ohio toy stores, bookkeeper Julia Harlin said the Stow and Hudson stores are experiencing a similar craze.
On a recent Saturday, 73 people stopped to see whether the Stow store had the bands, though they were temporarily out of stock.
"It's a national trend," explained Adrienne Giordano, a corporate spokesperson for Toys R Us. "It's the combination of the collectibility and price."
There is some use for the bands for binding items together, but their primary purpose these days is pure entertainment. In addition to collecting them, both boys and girls swap them, trying to get as many different shapes and themes as possible.
"They are great conversation starters," Carly said.
Particularly for girls, it's a fashion statement to match a pink hippopotamus, for instance, with a hoodie of the same color.
Schools in some places, including Florida and New York, have banned the bracelets, saying they are a distraction. Still, parents like Jeanne Cundiff, maintain the bands are quiet (well, except when Johnnie shoots his little sister), won't damage the vacuum cleaner, go through the wash without trouble and are bright and fun.
"They're just cool," 14-year-old Alli Petit of Wadsworth added, giggling.