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  • Four-year-old Penelope Daversa plays with a fidget spinner at Funky Monkey Toys. The toys have been mostly used by kids with autism or attention disorders until they exploded into popularity this spring. (Associated Press photos)

  • Tom Jones plays with a fidget spinner at his toy store, Funky Monkey Toys, in Oxford, Mich. He had never heard of the gadgets until people started calling.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 1:00 am

Toy craze whirls in out of nowhere

They're not new, but fidget spinners have taken over

JOSEPH PISANI | Associated Press

NEW YORK – Stores can't keep them in stock. Parents are scrambling to find them. And some schools have banned them.

The mania for fidget spinners – the 3-inch twirling gadgets taking over classrooms and cubicles – is unlike many other toy crazes. They're not made by a major company, timed for the holiday season or promoted in TV commercials. They're more easily found at gas stations or 7-Eleven than at big toy chains.

“It just took off,” says Richard Gottlieb, a consultant at Global Toy Experts in New York.

Fidget spinners have been around for years, mostly used by kids with autism or attention disorders to help them concentrate. But they exploded in popularity this spring.

Shannan Rowell, a sixth-grade special education teacher, says that after a weeklong break in late April, more than half of her 25 students suddenly had one.

“They seem to be taking over classrooms,” says Rowell, who lives in North Grafton, Massachusetts.

Gottlieb thinks it's likely that a kid brought one to a playground and the craze spread from there. Recent YouTube videos of people spinning them on their noses, foreheads and shoes also helped.

Helen Holden heard about fidget spinners last month when her 7-year-old twins demanded she stop at a 7-Eleven to buy them.

“I thought it was a drink,” says the bank vice president and blogger from Los Angeles.

That store was sold out, and so were several other 7-Eleven locations that she called. The chain says spinners have “been flying off the shelves” since they went on sale in March.

At Funky Monkey Toys in Oxford, Michigan, owner Tom Jones says he got a phone call about the fidget spinners in April. About 30 minutes later, another person called. “I said, 'Whatever they are, I need to get them.' ”

Now, the phone has been ringing 20 to 30 times a day with people checking whether they're in stock. His shop can sell up to 150 in a day.

“We run out of them frequently,” says Jones, who recently received a shipment of 2,000.