03/11/1985 at 01:00 AM EST
For five years the notion had been hibernating in Robert Small's head: Imagine a soft, cuddly teddy bear that could hug you and carry your lunch.
Last summer Small, a physicist for a California aerospace company, designed bears with buckles, straps and a zipper. Then he and girlfriend Dottie Murray, a part-time actress, set out wearing their "Bear Hugs Backpacks."
The pair was instantly besieged by delighted passersby. "People literally stopped their cars, blew their horns or wanted to buy them off our backs," says Small, 25. Though he had envisioned the packs for kids, adults seem to be just as smitten with the fuzzy creatures. Actress June Allyson bought two in a Hollywood restaurant, when she spotted Small and Murray seated nearby with them. While Christmas shopping at Bullocks Wilshire in L.A., actor Richard Thomas saw Small and Murray strolling through the store with the packs and bought nine. "They're irresistible," says Thomas. "They have personality and purpose at the same time."
They also have a hefty $42 price tag, but Small has sold 14,000 of them so far—many from the trunk of his car—and orders are still pouring in. Small recently expanded the line to include pandas, koalas, monkeys, penguins, cougars and rabbits. But Small states frankly that he is out to "make several million dollars" through such planned spin-offs as T-shirts, greeting cards and even a TV show. Obviously, whatever the market will bear.