The Warmth of American Girl Chicago

To say the temperature was 0 degrees was, at best, an understatement and, at worst, an injustice.

The Chicago wind was howling, the holiday lights were rustling from the trees overhead.  The light, pretty snowflakes fell unnoticed as I hurried my kids toward American Girl’s flagship store on Michigan Avenue.

We were freezing – and, shamefully, all ready to trade-in our impending American Girl “Personal Shopping” experience for the warmth of a hotel room and a cup of hot chocolate.

But, there was no cancelling this pilgrimage – my 8 year-old daughter, Viviana, had looked forward to visiting the Chicago A.G. store for some time.  Vivi had even asked Santa for gift cards to spend while she visited (which, later, I realized that we forgot to bring with us to the store).  Her enthusiasm, indeed, sliced through the cold, lakefront winds.

Tracy, our Personal Shopper (far right) and our children at AG’s Chicago flagship store.

Yes, visiting American Girl was her special “thing” on this trip to the city.  And, although Vivi’s anticipation boiled over, the collective morale of the rest of my clan waned after the near mile walk from our hotel to the store’s spectacular entrance in Water Tower Place.

“We’re here!”  Vivi triumphantly announced to us as we shed our gloves and stocking hats.

Everett, my 4 year-old son, didn’t hide his not-so-impressed first impression, “We walked in the freezing cold to see dolls?  Seriously?”

I didn’t respond, I was on a simple mission – to decode American Girl for dads.

I needed to understand a fundamental question that I’ve asked myself each time I bought one of these $100+ plastic objects of school-girl adoration: What’s the big deal with American Girl dolls?

About the Dolls for Dads

To help us, we enlisted the help of Tracy, our own Personal Shopper and American Girl expert.  She set me straight right away.

“Now, as we get started, I want you to know one thing – American Girl is founded, and is committed to, EDUCATION.  These are not dolls, they are stories about time, history and, even if you don’t have a doll, you should know them.”

Over the next two hours, that thought bounced around in my mind as we toured the store’s 60,000 square feet.

American Girl is not just a bunch of nameless, easy-to-duplicate dolls lined up for our daughters to covet.  The dolls are categorized and developed as a piece of a bigger, educational story.

All dads should take note of the following categories of American Girls:

Girl of the Year dolls

In most years, American Girl releases a new doll to much fanfare and notoriety.

2018 will be Luciana Vega’s year – a doll whose story encompasses the Space Race of the early 1960’s.

Luciana is one of fourteen Girls of the Year since Lindsey become the first in 2002.

Truly Me dolls

This category of doll is meant to look like the child buying them.  Truly Me dolls are dressed and accessorized to look like your son or daughter.

Kids are able to pick a doll with the same hair color, eye color and pick an outfit in the doll’s and their own size to wear.  Looking around the store, I got the feeling that most of the girls were selecting this option for a new doll – striding around with a doll in their arms that looked like their “mini me.”

Emersyn, our 2 year-old, feeding her loaner doll in the American Girl Cafe.

BeForever dolls

BeForever dolls tell a story of a time period and will be available endlessly in stores.

There was one BeForever doll’s story that grabbed my attention – the story of Kaya.

Tracy, our Personal Shopper, explained Kaya’s unique features best, “You see, each of these dolls represents a time period where something important happened that you need to know about.  Everything about these dolls is precise, accurate and educational.  For instance, Kaya is not showing her teeth – all of our other dolls do.  Why?  Native American woman did not show their teeth as part of their heritage.”

When we talked with Tracy about the BeForever collection, I noticed that my family (even my boys) became interested in the stories – the look of the dolls was secondary.  My family found so many of the facts we learned to be captivating – cool tidbits that our trip to American Girl forever has left with us.

As we continued to walk the store, I began to realize everything the store had to offer – other than buying another doll for our kids.

Around the Store and the American Girl Cafe

To get through American Girl Chicago, I’d plan for a few hours.  The store has a library with all of the published doll books and videos, a salon for hair re-setting, an ear piercing studio and restaurant (the American Girl Cafe).

The American Girl Cafe is a must-visit if you have the chance.  And, if you do, here is a few quick tips:

(1) If your kid doesn’t have their doll – no problem.  The cafe has loaner dolls and high chairs for all.  I was surprised that all but my 12 year-old used the loaner service at our table.

(2) I’d suggest that you make a reservation to dine about half way through your expected time at the store.  We found our way to the cafe an hour into our visit – just as the first “I’m tired/thirsty/hungry” complaints were beginning to sound from my littles.

I even caught my 12 year-old playing with his brother’s loaner doll as we waited for dinner.

(3) Pricing is a set fee per child eating.  About $20 per kid provided a drink, entrée (typical Kid’s Menu selections), a doll hair tie and a keepsake American Girl doll-sized cup and saucer.  The adult dinner menu was reasonably priced (between $10 and $25 per entrée) and diverse.  My wife ordered the salmon and I elected a safe, Caesar salad – both delicious.  For a family of 4, I would budget somewhere between $75 to $100 for dinner.

After wrapping up in the cafe and spending Vivi’s Christmas money, we were set to go – returning to the bitterly cold Chicago streets.

As we did so, I thought more about the question I set out to answer, “What is the big deal about American Girl dolls?”

I could finally answer.

For my family, American Girl is about fun – with a side of education and history.

For me, American Girl is about my daughter lighting up when she sees the new Girl of the Year.  More importantly, American Girl to me is the pride I feel when Vivi was compelled to understand why a doll would be interested in space travel and engineering.

American Girl dolls are, indeed, a big deal to my daughter.

Until now, that idea gave me a lukewarm feeling.

Now, as my family froze on Michigan Avenue in early January, seeing Viviana carrying her doll kept me warm – certainly better than my dollar store-bought stretchy gloves did.

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