February 25, 1996

Girl Scouts Selling Thin Mints on the Web

PHILADELPHIA -- That person in a brown uniform delivering Girl Scout cookies this year just might be a United Parcel Service worker, not a Brownie Scout.

Many traditions adapt to their era, and the annual cookie sale by the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. is changing, 60 years after it began. At least one local Scout council, in Boston, is marketing the usual array of Thin Mints, Caramel deLites and other cookie varieties on the Internet, with payment by credit card and delivery by UPS.

The Boston group, the Patriots' Trail Council, offers a home page on the World Wide Web portion of the Internet, created and operated by Open Market Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., company that specializes in on-line marketing.

The Web site also features a separate page for each cookie variety, giving the size, count and nutritional information. The price is $3 a box, the same as the door-to-door price, plus a shipping charge of $3.50 for three boxes. (The Internet address is

About 750 boxes have been sold through the site, said Kim King, an Open Market spokeswoman.

Other Scout councils also have home pages on the Internet, but those do not offer cookies for sale. Instead, they relay electronic queries to Scout organizations near the sender's hometown.

Door-to-door sales and those at shopping center booths staffed by Scouts still account for almost all cookie sales, whose grand total last year was 168 million boxes. As a result, the Boston council's effort has raised questions among scouting officials, who see the potential for turf battles among local councils.

Local sales benefit local groups, and organization leaders said they were trying to avoid the national competition that sales via the Internet would create.

In addition, computerized marketing could turn the sales into a year-round fund-raising effort, a situation that Scout officials said they intended to avoid.

"The cookie sale will continue to be a one-time-a-year program activity for girls," said Ellen Christie Ach, spokeswoman at the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. headquarters in New York. "The majority of councils seem to schedule sales from January through the spring."

The cookie-sale tradition grew out of an effort by Scouts in Philadelphia to raise money to buy Camp Indian Run, a weekend and summer retreat about 50 miles west of the city.

In 1934, young women demonstrated their baking skills using ovens on display in the appliance showrooms of the Philadelphia Gas Works, producing shortbread and sugar cookies. Two years later, Keebler-Wyl Co., a forerunner of Keebler Co., was producing Girl Scout cookies for national distribution.

"My Girl Scout leader's husband worked for the gas company and he made the facility available for the troops to do their baking," said Emma Sloss, one of the original cookie bakers in the 1930s and a 53-year volunteer with the Girl Scouts. "They made cookies in different places in Philadelphia to give a demonstration on how to make the cookies, and people wanted to buy them.

"It was difficult to raise money then during the Depression, but these women put a lot of brains and work behind the effort and saw a lot of potential in it."

A one-pound bag of cookies cost 23 cents that first year, Mrs. Sloss said, and local troops got about 1 cent per box.

The annual cookie sale was fun, Mrs. Sloss said, but, more importantly, was an educational experience teaching young women to develop plans, handle money, talk to people and build self-confidence.

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