'If you can find them, buy them': Squishmallow toy craze hits Ottawa
Squishmallows compared to the Beanie Babies boom of the late 1990s
They're soft, squishy and very huggable, but children looking to wrap their arms around a Squishmallow this year might find themselves disappointed come Christmas morning.
The plush little "Squishes" each have their own unique name and storyline and have grown in popularity during the pandemic among collectors young and old.
Emma Mitchell, 30, has acquired at least 450 Squishmallows in the past two years, which are on display in her Ottawa apartment.
"They're so bright and fun, and especially like in the last two years, it's been such a dark, awful time ... so it was kind of this just positive thing to look to in a time that felt so dark," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said Squishmallows have brought a real sense of community back to her life, even during a time when she and the rest of Canada were being told to stay home.
Through videos on Instagram and TikTok, Mitchell has connected with Squish lovers from around the world.
Her following on TikTok has grown to more than 21,000 with some of her videos garnering up to one million views.
"Sometimes I go to a store and I find nothing and still people are watching that, too," Mitchell said, adding one of her favourite things about collecting is the "chase."
As pandemic restrictions lifted, Mitchell helped organize Squishmallow meet-ups in Ottawa where collectors could come to buy, sell and trade from the trunks of their vehicles.
She said collectors also post tips on Facebook groups or other platforms to share information about the location of rare Squishmallows.
Recently Squishmallows were nominated for the 2022 Toy of the Year (TOTY) awards by The Toy Association, which calls itself the "Oscars" of the toy industry.
Joel Reiken, vice-president of operations with Playtime Toys, a chain of independent toy stores in the Toronto area, said he's watched the popularity of Squishmallows soar over the past two years.
"Now they're insane but there's no product out there. So if you're able to buy them, you should buy them," Reiken said, comparing the toys to the Beanie Babies boom of the late 1990s.
The high demand, coupled with global delays in manufacturing and shipping makes Squishes hard to come by, he said.
Helps with anxiety
Emily McGhee, 19, said Squishmallows have helped her get through the pandemic and a series of anxiety-inducing medical appointments.
"They're nice because I can hug them while everything is going on and they keep me nice and calm because it feels like there's someone there for me," McGhee said.
Now, she's selling a portion of her collection exclusively to parents of young children who are looking to wrap them up Christmas morning.
All the proceeds from her sale will go towards Toys for Tots Canada, a charity that provides toys for children in need.
WATCH | 'No one stops at one': Collectors turn to the soft and cuddly for pandemic comfort:
Resale prices soar
McGhee said she is trying to help parents who are competing against a portion of the Squishmallow community that buys in bulk to resell the toys at a higher price point.
Depending on their size, Squishmallows retail between $4 and $100 in store, but both McGhee and Mitchell say the resale price is much higher.
"Some of these Canadian ones will sell for like $400 US and it's like ... I bought it for $7.99," Mitchell said.
"Every once in a while, you might think to yourself like, 'Oh man, I could really make some money on this.' But like, at what cost?
"I find the community aspect a lot more fun," she said.