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The company receives far more requests for dolls of varying time periods and ethnicities than it can fill, says Stephanie Spanos, public relations manager for American Girl, and Rebecca herself was a result of that demand. The company doesn’t break out sales for individual titles, but it reports sales of 139 million American Girl books since 1986. The most recent Rebecca book (“The Crystal Ball: A Rebecca Mystery”) was published in 2012.
American Girl is headquartered in Middleton, Wis., a small city adjacent to Madison, where I have lived for 12 of the past 19 years. Pleasant Rowland, the onetime primary school teacher who founded the company in 1985 and sold it to Mattel in 1998, now heads the not-for-profit organization Rowland Reading Foundation.
Her philanthropy is considerable, with a heavy focus on education and the arts, particularly in support of revitalizing Madison’s once beleaguered downtown area. The most significant of these endeavors is a $46 million endowment fund that she and her husband created to build and support the Overture Center, Madison’s performing arts center and art gallery.
In the late 1990s, when plans for an American Girl Cafe first went public, I was working at a high-end restaurant where Rowland and her family were among the VIPs we watched over with particular care. (At least one of us must have done this quite well, for Rowland tapped my colleague Kamille Adamany, who at the time was maitre d’, to run the first cafe; today, Adamany remains the director of the restaurants.) I remember being skeptical of the notion of an American Girl restaurant, which struck me as a little twee: Did girls really want girly food and a special toy-related place to dine with their dolls?
They did. There are 14 American Girl stores around the country and 12 of them have restaurants. Not only do American Girl doll lovers and their accompanying doll buyers wish to dine on dishes like French toast or quiche at tables complete with doll-sized seating, but they also wish to see musicals, throw parties and stock up on outfits (child- or doll-sized) and historically accurate furniture. Dolls can even visit the salon for a little sprucing up, like hairstyling or ear piercing.