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Barbra Boutique

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It was a good thing, explained Deborah Gibson, sales associate at the new Barbra Boutique, that the design people came last week to spruce up the shelves. Because since Barbra "got rid of her laryngitis or whatever it was she had and came out of hiding," demand for items in the Marshall Field's boutique had risen 50 percent.

"It was a beautiful display, but it's all messy now," said Gibson as she restacked $20 blocks of notepad paper with Streisand's likeness on the sides. Two gentlemen interested in the $15 Barbra mugs interrupted her, but they decided against purchasing and Gibson continued: "In the beginning I figured, 'Oh, this is just another trend.' But it's doing much better than I expected. Yesterday we sold 600 dollars' worth. After her concert in Detroit, I think it was, we just kept getting phone orders. Lotsa phone orders."

It was Saturday afternoon and the Barbra Boutique, tucked into the pedway-level card shop near housewares, looked different than it had on my previous visit, the night before. This afternoon no one had turned on the VCR, which is supposed to play videos of old Barbra movies like Funny Girl and The Way We Were, which are sold in the boutique along with Barbra CDs and cassettes.

"The videos attract people over here," said Gibson. People like to watch Streisand singing "I'm Sadie, Sadie, married lady" or kissing Omar Sharif.

I'd had trouble the night before locating the Barbra Boutique. The sales associate in women's stockings said she heard about it but didn't know where it was. And the woman at the information counter had to make a call to find out that she should send me to cards. "But I'm just sitting here temporarily," she apologized.

When I found it on Friday, a young man named Roland was briskly selling greeting cards. He assured me he'd been selling at least seven to ten Barbra items a day: everything from T-shirts to bags to "Official Tour" jackets to sweaters with a Barbra crest to playing cards.

"Not that you'd want to use the cards," stressed Gibson on Saturday. "But if you do, they're specially coated. They can be easily wiped off. And they'll last longer."

Presumably they'll last longer than the boutique itself, which opened a few weeks ago in honor of Streisand's PR-laden first concert tour in 25 years and is scheduled to close this weekend. Gibson thought the Barbra Boutique would be replaced by either a board-game boutique or a Harley-Davidson souvenir shop.

Gibson says she'll miss dealing with Streisand's "average" fans. Like one guy who complained to her about political overtones in the Streisand concert he saw: "He said he had a negative view of her singing 'Happy Days Are Here Again,'" said Gibson. But then he bought a $25 T-shirt.

"Her nose looks so cute," said Gibson, pointing to the shirt. "And her eyes look so pretty."

Then there was the woman who bought a $60 black canvas Barbra Streisand tote bag but returned it the next day in favor of a T-shirt because it was just too much to pay for a bag, said Gibson.

And Mr. Pollack. Who called every morning to say, "I'm interested in the Barbra Streisand merchandise." Explained Gibson, "He's a real collector. At first I thought he was a nuisance, but then he showed up here finally one day and he turned out to be a real sweet guy." Mr. Pollack bought a block of paper, a couple of pens ($35 Mont Blanc look-alikes), watches, T-shirts, pictures, posters, a $50 crystal paperweight with words from the song "People". "He has a nice little collection; he seems to be an avid fan. He was really happy to get these things. He's afraid they'll get away from him. He wants a Barbra Streisand scarf but we don't have them. We also don't have the sweatshirts with all the concert cities on the back."

Or concert programs. At $25 each, they were already gone by my Saturday visit. And she's not even playing Chicago.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Cynthia Howe.

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