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01-01-00, Oh My

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In a rare moment of downtime in 1994, retail design architect Kenneth Walker read an article about the much-ballyhooed year-2000 computer glitch. Absentmindedly he began doodling the offending date: 01-01-00. “I was struck by those numbers,” he says. “It was the language of the next millennium.”

For Walker it has translated into mega-moola. Last August he launched his millennium line of clothing and novelties at Blooming-dale’s, Sears and 4,000 other stores. Since then shoppers have forked over more than $60 million for such items as his 01-01-00 key rings ($6), snow globes ($25) and leather bomber jackets ($250). “I knew right away it was a winner,” says JC Penney promotion director Drew Cumming. “Nobody has brought to the table a concept like this.”

Walker didn’t come by it easily: It took him three years and $500,000 to trademark the sequence of digits. But the Brown University grad—son of Marty (now deceased), a men’s clothier, and homemaker Lillian, now 90—has always been an idea man. By age 27, he had his own retail design company (clients included Citibank, FAO Schwarz and the Gap). In 1987 he sold the firm and began a consulting business. An avid sportsman, Walker, who lives with wife Mary, 54, in a Manhattan apartment, says there’s no secret to his success. “Think big,” he says. “It’s as easy as it is to think small.”