In Britain, poppets is a term of endearment for children.

In Annapolis, it's a new store children should find endearing.

Browsing in this children's shop in the Annapolis Harbour Center makes a visitor feel rather like Alice in Wonderland, after the Shrink-Me episode, what with the handmade dollhouses and endless shelves of miniature furnishings.

There's a tea set by Muffy Vanderbear, labeled with the jingle: "A spot of tea for Mommy and me." A white settee just about reaches a child's knee, and the real porcelain tea set is slightly bigger than your thumb.

There are pink marble sinks ($29.99) and tiny Pepsi cans; Luvs diapers and sets of handmade furniture.

Unlike some stores, Poppets carries entire sets of matching dollhouse furniture, such as a collection of lavender-and-white bedroomfurniture: ruffled bedspread, painted headboard and wood chest, curtains and rugs to match. You can decorate an entire room for a little more than $100.

If it's the whole home you need, three-story London row houses handmade in England sell for about $400, or you can go American with a Colonial look.

But the store isn't just for dollhouse lovers.

There are big dolls in white pinafores and straw hats that look as though they'd walked out of a Monet painting.

There's Babar the Elephant, a stout stuffed figure bursting out of his green plush suit.

Desert Storm patriots can pick up a fluffy bear dressed in military khakis -- complete with a Air Force label on the pockets and jauntily tilted cap.

Wooden trains line shelves next to science projects and Playmobil plastic toys.

Poppets is meant to be a specialty store, says owner Lynn A. Phillips, 41, the place to come for a beautiful book or an expensive European-made toy.

"We want tohelp people find that special gift," she says. "We're not trying to compete with Toys 'R Us. We're trying to be a specialized niche for an unusual gift."

Most of all, it's a store meant for children. While a second Poppets store on Main Street, also owned by Phillips, carries only expensive collectible dolls, the new Poppets features a children's party room for birthday parties and other special events.

For about $125, a harried parent can bring 10 children to a birthday party and not lift a finger.

The parties include invitations, party paper goods, a decorated party room, use of music, props and costumes, party assistants, theme-related goodie bags for the guests and helium balloons for everyone.

Options range from international parties, centered around a different culture -- France or Greece or Germany -- to a tropical beach party. There are tea parties, kite parties, fairy-tale parties, firemen's rallies, safari journeys, chef parties and circuses. Not to mention sports parties, magic shows and a new theme party called "Dinosaur Digs."

On holidays, Poppets will visit homes for such special events as Breakfast with Santa and Breakfast with the Easter Bunny.

Phillips emphasizes that the shop will take special requests, as well as hold special events monthly starting in September. The zoomobile will visit from the Baltimore Zoo. Folks from Baltimore's National Aquarium will arrive with an exhibit.

Poppets is the latest store to open at the Harbour Center, a 280,000-square-foot shopping center that opened in early March. By the mall's grand opening this September, the complex will contain eight anchor stores, the largest theater in the Annapolis area, more than 50 specialty shops and the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market.

And Poppets. The idea behind the store began five years ago when Phillips's two children -- now 7 and 10 -- complained that every birthday party they attended was held at the local McDonald's. She decided Annapolis could usesome help planning its birthday parties.

"I knew from being a mother the need for the birthday party business, because of your social schedule," she said.

"Everybody celebrates their birthday in a special way, and you run out of time."

Phillips started the first Poppets store in a roundabout way, when she grew tired of finding day care for her children. She decided to leave her job of 17 years, as a foreign language translator for the federal government, to stay home with her youngsters.

But then she got creative, and Poppets came into being.

"I have to keep reminding myself they're why I did this in the first place, so I try to work minimally in the summer," says Phillips, who hires sales personnel to manage the store in her absence.

"I didn't think it was fair to wake kids up at 7 a.m. in the summer to go to day care. They should play. I have my kids at the pool right this minute, in fact."

Playfulness could be the theme of her new store. While the Main Street Poppets attracts serious doll collectors, Phillips hopes the Harbour Centre shop will attract children and the young at heart.

"So much of this business plays on the emotional aspect of the customer or whoever's selling the doll. Somebody should write a book on why people buy the doll they do," Phillips says.

"It reminds them of somebody, or it looks like the doll they hadas child, or it reminds a grandparent of their grandchild. There's definitely an emotional aspect involved."

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