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From collectibles to coffee

Who says big girls don't play with dolls?

When Mary Szanyi -- who proudly points out her name is pronounced "zany" -- got her first Barbie doll, she never envisioned she would still be collecting these dolls after she met her real-life "Ken" -- Bob Coffey, her husband.

Actually it was Coffey who would bring her back to Barbie decades later.

Szanyi-Coffey now has 300 Barbies -- including "Star Trek" Barbie and Irish Step Dance Barbie.

"My husband bought me a Barbie doll," she recalls of her gift several years ago. "When I first saw that doll online, I really wanted it and showed it to him. It arrived at my doorstep about a week later."

"I bought two more dolls within a month," she added. "I found that Barbies completely changed from when I was playing with them in the 1970s -- different looks, bodies, poses, styles. I found myself wrapped up in the history of Barbie and constantly searching the Net, stores, garage sales for my newfound craze.

"I could clean up an old doll, and restyle her hair -- though not so well," she added. "I gave life back to beat-up dolls and had fun doing it."

Like most collectors, she discovered that her hobby was a way of revisiting her youth.

"I found that collecting brought back good memories of my childhood, lowered my stress level -- thoroughly enjoyable," said Szanyi-Coffey, a former engineer and mother of three boys. "Barbie is captivating because she changes with the times. If you look hard enough you can go back to when you were growing up and remember the clothing, the decor. She reflects what was going on in pop culture."

Today, according to Antiques Roadshow Insider, a Barbie in the attic could be worth more than your 401(k). And Chat Diva Barbie, the latest in high-tech dolls, comes with speakers that can be hooked up to an iPod or another MP3 player. She lip-syncs to your favorite tunes.

Despite controversy over Barbie being a sexist vestige of the past, "Barbie may have played a role in equal opportunity," said Szanyi-Coffey, "as girls imagined themselves in roles of doctors, veterinarians, soldiers, detectives -- and even president of the United States.

Szanyi-Coffey has found a way to make her hobby pay.

After three years of planning, she recently opened a coffee shop on Delaware Avenue in Kenmore called -- of course -- Zany Coffee & Collectibles. Here, Barbie shares space with other collectible themes, including Elvis, "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "Peanuts" and "Looney Tunes."

And on the menu: Zany Coffee, French Roast, Crazy Cappuccino, Looney Latte and Funny Frappe.

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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