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 three-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 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 seven-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.
Holden's kids said they needed them before school on Monday so they could practice spinning them. So she signed up for Amazon Prime, paid $5.99 for one-day shipping and had two $15 fidget spinners delivered on a Sunday.
“I totally got suckered by my kids,” she says.
At Funky Monkey Toys, 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 if they're in stock.
His shop in Oxford, Michigan, can sell up to 150 in a day.
“We run out of them frequently,” says Jones, who recently got a shipment of 2,000.
On Amazon.com, 18 of the top 20 bestselling toys and games were fidget spinners, ranging from ones that cost just a few dollars to $12 versions touting stainless steel bearings.
Five Below, which sells items for $5 or less, says on its website that customers can only buy two fidget spinners at time.
Toys R Us flew fidget spinners in this month from China, rather than wait for ship transport. It says Rubik's Cubes, yo-yos and other toys to occupy restless hands have been hot sellers since the beginning of the year.
It also started selling $12.99 fidget cubes—the items that made up the rest of the Amazon bestsellers—which fit in the palm of a hand and have clickers, wheels and switches on the sides.
Unlike hot toys at the holiday season, which are often made by one company, manufacturers—mostly in China—are making the fidget spinners as fast as they can.
Jim Silver, the CEO and editor-in-chief of toy review website TTPM, expects the fad to last into the summer and then fade as more of them flood into the market.
“Demand starts to waver,” he says.