Build-A-Bear at Avenues Mall swamped by 'Pay Your Age' crowd

Chain known for customizable teddy bears halts too-popular promotion at stores

By Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist, Erik Avanier - Reporter, Carianne Luter - Social Media Producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Build-A-Bear Workshop's "Pay Your Age" promotion proved too popular.

The chain known for its customizable teddy bears and other stuffed toys couldn't handle the crowds Thursday and had to turn shoppers away. It wrote in a Facebook post it closed lines at its stores in the United States and Canada due to overwhelming crowds and safety concerns.

In Jacksonville, there was a seemingly never-ending line of customers waiting to get into the store inside the Avenues Mall.

Several families arrived as early as 7 a.m. to get a spot in line. Many said the wait was worth it in order to take advantage of the offer, which let customers buy a bear and pay their current age with a cap at $29.

Pam Nance heard about the "Pay Your Age" deal on Facebook and showed up at the Avenues Mall with her 4-year-old and 5-year-old grandsons. 

"(The line) was insane," Nance said. "We got there at like 8:30 and there were people outside at 7 and they finally got in line at 7:30."

Despite the wait, Nancy only had to pay $9 for two bears for her two grandsons. 

IMAGES: Overwhelming line inside Avenues Mall for Build-A-Bear's 'Pay Your Age' deal

As hundreds of other people waited in line, the Avenues Mall quickly organized giveaways to keep people in good spirits. 

"We're handing out all kinds of fun things for people in line. We have Play-Doh, coloring books. We're keeping everyone entertained and they're having lots of fun while waiting in line to Build-A-Bear," said Lindsey Vonhoven, mall spokesperson. "It's Thursday morning and you look around and it looks like Christmas."

Some customers took to social media to complain. 

"I went up there at 9:45 a.m. and they turned me and my daughter away," Carol Blair posted on Facebook. "They wouldn't even let us get in line, and at that point they were out of vouchers."

At one point, the Build-A-Bear inside the Avenues Mall closed while the long line of people waited outside. By the time the store reopened, only a limited amount of people were allowed in. Hope Davis was one of the lucky parents who managed to get in the store before it closed for the evening.

"They did close the store for a little while and then reopened it," Davis said. "It was a little hectic waiting all the time."

Mike Graf and his little girl waited in line for hours. Though they did make it inside the store, they were not able to build a bear. 

“They capped the line off at 15-20 people behind me, and they actually couldn’t stuff anymore bears because they ran out of stuffing," Graf said. "Luckily, she got a pre-made bear, and so she’s happy with that.”

But some parents and their children walked away empty handed.

Similar crowds are reported across the country. Build-A-Bear said it knew people were disappointed.

"We feel it is important to share that, based on the information available to us before the day began, we could not have predicted this reaction to our Pay Your Age Day event. We understand that many Guests were turned away as, due to safety concerns created by the crowds, authorities in certain locations closed Build-A-Bear stores and, in other locations, we were forced to limit the line," a statement on Build-A-Bear's website reads.

The statement continues, "In response, we distributed vouchers to Guests, who were present in lines, to be redeemed for a future purchase. We are now making vouchers available to our Build-A-Bear Bonus Club members in the U.S. and Canada who log into their account by midnight on July 15, 2018. Vouchers related to this event will be honored through August 31, 2018."

For those who stood in line at the Avenues Mall but didn't get to take advantage of what the company described as its "biggest in-store deal ever," News4Jax was told they received a voucher for  $15 off their next purchase. 

Security was a concern at stores nationwide, and security guards were on standby at the Avenues Mall for the "Pay Your Age" event. However, the mall spokesperson said no major security issues were reported.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.