New Phil — and Phyllis — plush toys available Friday

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Friday, less than a month shy of the 125th Groundhog Day, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, in partnership with Punxsutawney Phil’s Official Souvenirs, will release the 2011 plush Phil.

This year, in celebration of the holiday’s quasquicentennial however, the plush Punxsutawney Phil is accompanied by someone new — someone less acclaimed, less acknowledged and perhaps, less appreciated: A plush Punx-sutawney Phyllis.

“We felt that the role of Phyllis, Phil’s wife, in the tradition of Groundhog Day has been overlooked. It seemed like the right time to honor her support of Phil,” said Mike Johnston, vice-president of the Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle and plush development coordinator.

According to legend, Johnston explained, every September, Phil receives a sip of the “elixir of life,” a secret
formula derived by the Inner Circle, that extends the weather-forecasting groundhog’s life for an additional seven years.

The life-prolonging punch, however, is ineffective on humans and all other groundhogs, including Phyllis. Consequently, Phil has had many mates — all named Phyllis — throughout his 125-year tenure.

This year’s plush Phyllis, whom Johnston notes is an “integral” part of Phil’s life, marks the first time the Groundhog Club has called attention to her existence. Due recognition is the result of requests, he said, from “far and wide.”

“We thought this was the appropriate year to acknowledge their relationship. We have never given Phyllis the recognition she deserves,” he said. “Behind every good groundhog is another good groundhog.”

The two plush toys — Phil, sporting a black vest and top-hat, and Phyllis, a red dress and bow — will be sold separately at Phil’s Souvenir Shop and online at beginning at 9 a.m. Friday.

While this year’s plush Phil supply is greater than the last, the quantity is still limited, and the plush Phyllis stock is even less. Therefore, a purchase limit of 12 per toy, per order, per customer, will be enforced.

“Phil is well known, but Phyllis isn’t,” George Powers, manager of Phil’s Souvenir Shop, said. “We thought that Phyllis might sell better locally, where the concept of Phil having a ‘wife’ has been talked about for years, but we were unsure of how popular Phyllis would be to folks outside of town. That’s why we kept the quantity lower.”

Proceeds from the sale of the plush pair benefit the Groundhog Club, the Chamber of Commerce and the Groundhog Festival Committee.

Debuting in 2003 at the height of the Ty Beanie Baby craze, the plush Phil — a then Ty production exclusive to Punxsutawney — was received with mass demand, selling out the first day of sale.

“The first year was an aberration,” Johnston said. “We had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. When we sold out, I actually had people call me with death threats, and that’s not a joke. I wish it were.”

Since the plush toy’s introduction, the Groundhog Club separated from the Ty corporation and has worked with independent producers for the past two years.

“Phil has become an icon,” Johnston said. “It’s a little quirky. And certainly Groundhog Day is a quirky holiday. It is the only non-religious based holiday celebration throughout the year, with the expectation of the Fourth of July. We own a national holiday.”

As for the future Punxsutawney plush family, no predictions are being made just yet, but if this year’s acknowledgment of Phyllis is any indication, anything can happen.

“To the best of our knowledge, Phil and Phyllis have never produced an offspring,” Johnston said. “But you never know what happens on a Tuesday when nobody is around. There’s always a chance.”