On New Year’s Day I decided to do something that I have never done before. After looking around at various options, I decided to try visiting American Girl Place on the day that the new Girl of the Year is formally put on sale for the first time anywhere in the United States. Here’s some background. American Girl originally started as an independently woman-owned doll company that specializes in selling historical dolls (along with corresponding books that describes the character that the doll represents and the era she comes from) to a target audience of girls from 8-12.

After Mattel bought the company, they decided to try something else. First they introduced a line of modern dolls wearing modern clothes that is now known as American Girl of Today. When that became a hit, American Girl decided to do a Girl of the Year where, for one year, a new doll is put on sale (along with related books, clothes, and accessories) then is retired after the year ends. This doll is supposed to represent a modern girl dealing with modern issues. The first and second dolls were slow sellers but when the company introduced Marisol Luna as its 2005 Girl of the Year, that whole line really took off into this totally annual hype juggernaut.

There seems to be an annual ritual where, starting in the fall, there are speculations among the American Girl message boards and blogs as to who will be the next Girl of the Year. Sometimes, as what happened with this year’s Girl of the Year, one of the Chinese factories that American Girl contracts with will leak pictures online through the Chinese auction site Taobao. The blogs and message boards will post those leaked photos, which, in turn, incites American Girl to have their lawyers issue one of those cease and desist letters saying that those photos must disappear or else. The vast majority of those online sites usually comply since most of them are run by individuals who don’t have the deep pockets to hire their own lawyers like American Girl does. So you get online pages like this one, which formerly posted the leaked photo(s) in question.

But then Amazon.com starts taking pre-orders for the 9-inch mini doll, and book versions of the Girl of the Year weeks before the official launch and the fans start writing more openly about this new doll since there’s no way American Girl would try to silence a big corporate behemoth like Amazon.

So the hype increases when, towards the end of December, American Girl starts dropping hints about the new Girl of the Year. The hype culminates on December 31—New Year’s Eve—when American Girl will send a representative to appear on ABC’s Good Morning America TV show and the doll is formally unveiled along with her name, just like what happened with the new Girl of the Year.

Then the newly anointed Girl of the Year formally goes on sale for the first time on January 1—New Year’s Day—and she’ll remain on sale until all of the dolls are sold out later in the year or on New Year’s Eve, whichever comes first. Then the cycle begins again starting in the fall when American Girl doll fans start to speculate on who will be the 2016 Girl of the Year and so on.

For the record, the 2015 Girl of the Year is named Grace Thomas. She’s described as someone who loves to bake and she has an entrepreneurial trait where she organizes her friends to start their own small baking business. At one point she also travels to France, which explains why her Meet outfit has her wearing an Eiffel Tower t-shirt with the words “Paris, Je T’aime” and why her separately sold Grace’s Welcome Gifts includes a beret. Having seen the doll both online and in person I have to say that I find her to be very cute. I love her long brown hair with the side bangs and a long braid down the side and I find her blue eyes to be very striking. She has the same first name as one of my late grandmothers and the same last name as two of my current online friends (a married couple whom I’ve only met in person twice because they live in Chicago while I live outside of Washington, DC). She’s into baking and wants to start her own baking business, just like one of my friends, an avid baker who has her own business called Dances With Loaves. She also hails from Massachusetts, a state I have travelled to a few times and I have always enjoyed my trips there. In addition, one of my friends from church is originally from a town located near Boston.

While the doll is gorgeous, her rollout has incited some criticisms, all of which are valid. There are the fans like this writer who remember the days when American Girl focused on teaching history to girls via their historical dolls and books who are miffed that the company seems to be more focused on the modern dolls like My American Girl and the Girl of the Year with more emphasis on clothes and accessories and less emphasis on history and how a girl can react to what’s going on around her. There is a photo comparing Grace with the previous Girls of the Year McKenna and Chrissa, while showing how similar the three dolls are to each other. Which brings up the criticism that, on a visual level, Grace seems to be a retread of earlier Girls of the Year. Then there is the most serious criticism of this new doll: Grace Thomas is the latest in a long series of white dolls that have been designated Girl of the Year. The last Girl of the Year that was at least part-ethnic (Japanese/Hawai’ian/white) was Kanani Akina in 2011 while the last fully ethnic doll (Latina) was Marisol Luna way back in 2005. The details of why that is a bad thing are so extensive that it would make this post extremely long but I highly recommend that you read AG Complaint Department: #AGDoCGotY: Because Representation in AG Lines Matter.

Even though I personally like the doll, I have no intention of getting Grace Thomas mainly because this doll, as the Girl of the Year, costs more than the other American Girl dolls. While the historical BeForever and the more modern My American Girl dolls cost $115 each, the most basic Girl of the Year doll and book set sells for $120. Personally if I want an 18-inch modern doll wearing modern clothes, I would simply go to the Target that’s located near my home and purchase an Our Generation doll for a quarter of the price of a single American Girl doll.

I had long heard that the American Girl Place stages this big event on New Year’s Day to celebrate the rollout of the new Girl of the Year but, prior to 2011 (when one of those stores opened at Tyson’s Corner Mall in Virginia) I didn’t have the chance to attend one. Even the first few years after the Tyson’s Corner store opened I didn’t go mainly because driving to that mall (as well as most of Northern Virginia) is such a nightmare that I would rather avoid altogether. Well, thanks to the opening of the new Silver Line Metro, I can now take a train to the mall without having to deal with the crazy drivers in Northern Virginia. So I decided to spend New Year’s Day checking out one of those Girl of the Year rollouts in person for the very first time and I took a lot of photographs.

The other times I took the Silver Line I usually arrived either around twilight or night. For once I managed to arrive while it’s still daytime so I took a couple of photos from the footbridge that connects the Metro station to Tyson’s Corner Mall. The footbridge extends over Route 123, which is one of the busiest roads in the area. Since the next two photos were taken on New Year’s Day, the streets look relatively empty by Northern Virginia standards.

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The last time I saw that Christmas tree located near the entrance to the footbridge was at night, when it was filled will all kinds of dazzling lights in a variety of colors. Viewing the same tree in the daytime is pretty interesting as well with the array of silver balls and ornaments.

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When I made my first ever trip to the mall via the Silver Line, I noticed the outdoor couches and I wondered if they would be kept outside all year round. It turns out that not only are the couches outside in the winter but there are heating tables in the middle of the two couches that put out flames so people can stay warm while sitting outside.

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The ice skating rink that I saw the last time was still there and it was filled with skaters on New Year’s Day.

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I went in the mall and I made my way to the American Girl Place, whose windows were filled with the new Girl of the Year.

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On the inside of the store there were many large Girl of the Year displays everywhere that it was impossible to ignore.

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The next photo shows the designated Girl of the Year, Grace Thomas. She looked very lovely in person and I mostly love her default Meet outfit. The only thing about her outfit I didn’t like is that big black bow located on the center top of the skirt. For some reason I thought that bow looked very awkward and out of scale in her abdomen area with the t-shirt bottom running up against that bow. If I somehow ever get that outfit (which is impossible since you can get it only if you pay $120 for the doll), the first thing I would do is to cut that bow off.

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As for the Girl of the Year celebrations, let’s just say that the store was incredibly crowded. I wasn’t able to see much of the activities because of the huge throngs of people. The next two photos shows the long line of people and their dolls waiting to get inside the American Girl Bistro along with all of the tables being occupied inside.

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In one corner of the store there was a place where people can take their pictures next to a standee of Grace and her French bulldog.

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Not only was Grace formally rolled out but her clothes, books, and accessories were also formally debuted on New Year’s Day. Grace’s outfits start at $24 (for her pajamas) and most of them are at least $30. As for the pastry cart that’s featured in the next two photos, that one costs $150.

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Grace’s line also has a travel set for sale that includes a rolling suitcase with a retractable handle, a luggage tag, passport, plane tickets, and a travel journal that costs $44. I took a close look at the suitcase and I have to admit that it looks pretty realistic (based on my own personal experiences with rolling suitcases). But it still seems pretty pricey for a doll-sized suitcase.

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One of the cheaper items in Grace’s line is this cute French bulldog, which is a relative bargain at $22.

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While most of the other American Girl dolls are sold in dark pink boxes, Grace is further distinguished as the Girl of the Year by being sold in a purple box. In any case I saw plenty of people pick them up. Heck, I saw one burly guy pick up three of those boxes (which costs him a total of $360). I would’ve loved to have gotten a picture of it but he kept on moving around and at one point he gave me this dirty look so I decided against taking that photo.

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The cheapest item in Grace’s line are the three books in her series. Each book costs $10.

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One of the most crowded areas of the store was this center display that featured Grace’s French Bakery. There were people constantly crowded around it while the employees were constantly applying germ-killing wipes to the items to prevent any kind of contamination.

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The next photo was one of the few shots that I was able to get of the inside of the bakery because of so many people crowding around it. It looks so interesting that I’ll probably go back to the store and photograph it at a later date when the initial Girl of the Year hype dies down.

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Some of the bakery’s contents were left outside as they were drying from being recently wiped with disposable anti-bacterial towelettes. I managed to get quite a few shots of the miniature pastries, signs, and baking utensils. I was totally amazed at the attention to detail and how realistic these miniatures looked. (Heck, there was even a miniature mobile tablet among the items.)

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I didn’t see a price tag anywhere near that bakery. I assumed that it must cost at least $200. When I got home and looked online, I found that Grace’s French Bakery, which includes over 60 accessories, costs a whopping $500. That’s a lot of money for a doll accessory. When I posted some of my photos of that bakery on my Facebook page while mentioning how much it costs, at least two of my friends who are parents of girls who are almost American Girl’s target age responded back where they basically balked at the price. I don’t know if too many parents are going to be willing to spend that much money on a toy bakery—no matter how well made it is—but that’s one of those things that I won’t know for sure until later this year. A lot of Grace’s smaller accessories were sold separately, such as Grace’s Paris Accessories set, which costs $32.

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For the girl who wishes that she could dress like Grace Thomas, American Girl have her covered as well. There were human girl-sized outfits whose prices ranged from $18 (for the pink beret) all the way to $48 for a red knit sweater that says “Love” in black letters.

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The “Grace Thomas is the 2015 Girl of the Year” hype was everywhere in that store. There was even a Grace Thomas sign on a shelf that was dedicated to the historical BeForever Civil War-era former slave doll Addy Walker and her accessories.

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There were such a scrum of people that the shelf space devoted to the BeForever mini dolls looked trashed. photo42

But when I came back to the area a few minutes later, I saw that someone had straightened that shelf so three leftover mini dolls were displayed upright.

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I have to admit that I liked the holiday gift boxes that housed the remaining mini dolls. (When I was there, Samantha was the only mini doll that was available in those boxes.)

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Since I now know what it’s like to be inside of the American Girl Place on the day that a new Girl of the Year goes on sale for the first time, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever do this again because it was way too crowded for my tastes. For the 2016 Girl of the Year, I’ll probably wait at least a month before seeing that doll in person—when all of the initial hype dies down.

After visiting the American Girl Place, I walked around the mall some more. I took this shot of the windows of a temporary Christmas shop that will probably be closed for the season sometime within the next week or two. (The store was holding a clearance sale when I was there.) The store featured a window display that’s decorated with ornaments reflecting the major NFL football team in nearby Washington, DC. (It’s a name that has long raised the ire of Native Americans because they consider the name “Redskins” to be a racial slur and the fight to get team owner Dan Snyder to change it has gained steam in recent years. It has even led to this hilarious South Park commercial.)

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I went inside the Lego Store, where I found this interesting kit. For around $70, anyone can buy a kit to recreate the famous cantina scene from the original 1977 Star Wars movie.

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I didn’t stay long in the Lego Store because, as the next photo shows, that store was just as crowded as the American Girl Place.

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Everywhere I went it was totally crowded. Finding a seat to take a rest was difficult. I was so glad that I decided to take the Metro because I can only imagine how crazy the traffic going to and from the mall was (not to mention the struggle to find parking). I found this interesting kiosk that sold locally made donuts called Naughty Girls Donut Shop.

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I didn’t buy anything this time around but I’ll probably try at least one of their donuts on my next trip to the American Girl Place so I can take more detailed photos of that $500 bakery for Grace Thomas. Although, after reading the ingredients for the donut in the next picture, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be brave enough to try the Wakin’ Bacon donut.

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