Customers sorry to watch KB Toys’ demise

Jasmine Davis was hoping to see the usual collection of barking and chirping toys normally on displa

Categories: Business, Schenectady County

Jasmine Davis was hoping to see the usual collection of barking and chirping toys normally on display at the entrance of KB Toys in the Wilton Mall.

Instead, the 7-year-old girl found rows of barren shelves, empty aisles and bare waffle board where rows of toys once hung. Her mother, Michele Davis of Saratoga Springs, was just as amazed to see the desolate store, which was once marked by a supply of toys that was piled nearly to the ceiling and in every available space.

“We were in here like a week ago and it wasn’t like this,” she said after leaving the store on Christmas Eve. “It’s usually so crowded in there you could barely move.”

The high-pitched whistles and digital tunes that once filled the store with a cacophony of noises were silent. The colorful window front displays were replaced by a stark pair of signs advertising half off on most of the store’s dwindling merchandise.

Last week, a Delaware bankruptcy judge authorized KB Toys to begin liquidating its inventory during a holiday going-out-of-business sale. The nation’s largest mall-based toy retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month, declaring in court documents that it owes more than $362 million to creditors.

The 86-year-old toy retailer is planning to close down all of its 461 stores by early February, including 53 in New York. KB Toys operates stores at the Rotterdam Square mall, Crossgates in Guilderland, Colonie Center and at the Adirondack Factory outlet in Queensbury.

The filing marked the second time in four years KB Toys has sought bankruptcy protection. In October 2004, the Massachusetts-based company closed more than 100 stores, including three in the Capital Region.

Like many retailers, KB Toys was hard hit by the economic downturn. After a slight gain in sales during the first three quarters, the company saw receipts decline by more than 19 percent between October and December.

With its debt growing, the company attempted several gimmicks in a last-ditch effort to stimulate sales. They announced price cuts on more than 400 stock items in early November, then opened 270 locations at midnight on Black Friday.

KB’s bankruptcy filing and subsequent liquidation sale seemed to achieve what the company was unable to do in the run-up to the holidays. Last-minute shoppers crowded the KB stores in both Rotterdam and Wilton to pick through the dwindling supply of toys.

Many were thrilled to capitalize on the deals, but expressed remorse over losing one of the only mall-based stores devoted solely to toys. Some said they liked the convenience of KB, but acknowledged that the store’s prices couldn’t match those offered by big-box retailers.

“They were always more expensive,” said Robyn Hansen of Ballston Spa, after browsing at the Wilton store with her 2-year-old daughter, Ella. “There were better deals to be found, especially at the box stores.”

Bonnie Reddiough of Rotterdam was sad to see the mall’s KB close down. Like others, she blamed the demise of the toy store on larger retailers such as Wal-Mart and Toys ‘R Us.

“It seems like the big stores are pushing the little guys out,” she said.

KB has operated toy stores in Rotterdam and Wilton since the two malls were built during the late 1980s and early 1990s. There are no other toy stores in either of the malls, which are owned by the Macerich Company.

Macerich marketing manager Becky Valenti was unsure if another toy store might come to spots that will be vacated by KB. She said the company will gauge demand before deciding what type of store to bring in.

“We’ll look to add something that will complement the other retailers,” she said.

State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo also weighed in on the retailer’s bankruptcy. His office secured an agreement with KB that will ensure all of the company’s gift cards are honored until Jan. 11, or exactly one month after KB filed for Chapter 11 protection.

KB Toys sold as much as $2 million in gift cards in 2008, and holds roughly $12 million of gift cards that have not been redeemed, according to the attorney general’s office. The bankruptcy court authorized — but did not require — the company to honor gift cards.

The liquidation also means KB’s roughly 10,850 full-time and seasonal employees are one step closer to unemployment. KB was permitted to offer bonuses of up to $1,500 to store managers in order to prevent an exodus of workers during the ongoing liquidation of the company’s inventory.

But even with KB’s last Christmas behind it now, employees are already gearing up to off-load more merchandise. Stores in Rotterdam and Wilton were expecting to unpack truck shipments in excess of 500 units in the coming week.

“The longer this stuff stays out there, the longer we have jobs,” commented one worker in Rotterdam who didn’t give his name.

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