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No let-up in demand for sold-out Snowlets

Fearing Nagano's Olympic organizers wouldn't have enough, Kelly Flint bought his Snowlet bean-bags on his first day in Nagano.

"Oh yeah, I got those the first day I got here," said Flint, who, as the Salt Lake Organizing Committee senior vice president of law and commerce, will oversee mascot marketing in 2002."Our concept of merchandising is different than it is here in Japan," he said. In the United States, the ideal is "to sell the last one on the last day."

That's a tough balance to find.

During the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, mascot dolls were being marked down even before closing ceremonies because so many of the bright blue, computer-generated creatures were available.

But in Nagano, stuffed versions of the furry four owl-like mascots were gone long before the Olympic flame was to be doused.

And back in Utah? The calls for stuffed Snowlets pour into the five Olympic Spirit stores at the rate of "15 every five minutes," according to one clerk.

But Nagano organizers didn't send a single plush Snowlet to American retailers. The U.S. stores do have Snowlet T-shirts, sweat shirts and lapel pins.

"We expect to be pretty well sold out by the end of the Games," said Ron Sims, manager of national retail operations for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Other Olympic-themed merchandise is also selling well, Sims said. In fact, sales at most stores have doubled over last year, thanks to a boost of Olympic spirit from the Nagano Games.

Ironically, Salt Lake is the exception to that boom. "Sales haven't quite doubled here, but they are having really good sales in Salt Lake," Sims said.

Back in Japan, Snowlet fans keep up the hunt for the elusive birds.

Nagano's huge "Snowlet House" souvenir tents are still packed with shoppers. But all they're finding are boxes of blueberry cookies, socks, hats, kimonos and even silk shoe inserts decorated with the Snowlets.

They're not finding stuffed versions of the furry four, Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki.

"Sold out. It's not coming any more," said Keiko Tanaka, an employee at the Snowlet House. "I was surprised it sold so fast. As soon as I put them out, they were gone."

Even the street vendors have been cleaned out.

Shoppers are frustrated. "I got a T-shirt and some earrings and a little hockey puck. It's disappointing," said Herta Kapp, who works for CBS in New York.

Kapp said she'd planned to bring Snowlet dolls back for her 3-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. "I was surprised . . . all of a sudden they were gone," she said.

The lack of Snowlets was even the subject of a recent press briefing. Journalists, realizing they weren't going to be able to bring home Snowlets, demanded an explanation.

The official response? The mascot was very successful.