Waterford Toys R Us, Babies R Us set to close

From left, Michelle Mahoney carries her daughter Tenli, 6 months, as she walk through the parking lot with daughter Luci, 2, and husband, Patrick, all of East Lyme, on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at the Toys R Us in Waterford. The company has announced it is closing all of its Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores in the United States. 'We had a lot of gift cards to use here,' Michelle said as the family bought a bike and lots of other toys. Toys R Us spokeswoman Amanda Kahl said in an email that Toys R Us and Babies R Us 'gift cards, Reward Dollars and Endless Earnings will continue to be honored for the next 30 days.' (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
From left, Michelle Mahoney carries her daughter Tenli, 6 months, as she walk through the parking lot with daughter Luci, 2, and husband, Patrick, all of East Lyme, on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at the Toys R Us in Waterford. The company has announced it is closing all of its Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores in the United States. "We had a lot of gift cards to use here," Michelle said as the family bought a bike and lots of other toys. Toys R Us spokeswoman Amanda Kahl said in an email that Toys R Us and Babies R Us "gift cards, Reward Dollars and Endless Earnings will continue to be honored for the next 30 days." (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Waterford — Holding her daughter's hand and wrangling bags of goodies into her car Thursday, Erin Roselund smiled and admitted the Toys R Us here was a "frequent destination."

A Groton mom of two who doesn't often shop online, Roselund said she heard rumblings earlier this week about Toys R Us planning to shutter its U.S. stores.

"This is a kid's world," Roselund said. "It's just sad."

In an email to store employees Wednesday, Dave Brandon, Toys R Us chairman and CEO, said the company planned to liquidate inventory in all 735 stores in the U.S.

With $5 billion in debt choking off its ability to invest in new technologies and compete with Amazon, Target and Walmart, the company filed for bankruptcy protection in September, but had hoped to keep most stores open.

Brandon described the news as "beyond heartbreaking."

"Today is a profoundly sad day for all of us — as well as the millions of kids and families who we have served the past 70 years," he said. "We have helped to create incredible memories that will last forever."

On Thursday morning, Roselund and other customers flooded Waterford's familiar, colorful aisles of Legos, video games, dolls and Fisher-Price products ranging from children's blocks to Power Wheels.

"The staff here is always so great," Roselund said of the Waterford team of about 30 workers. "They're always filling up balloons and giving them out."

Gales Ferry native Robert Solinga lamented the Waterford location's closure, recalling many trips to the video game corner in the 1980s and 1990s.

"I loved going there as a kid picking out Nintendo games," he said. "You had to pull a piece of paper and then bring it to the front."

Toys R Us spokeswoman Amanda Kahl said in an email that Toys R Us and Babies R Us "gift cards, Reward Dollars and Endless Earnings will continue to be honored for the next 30 days."

Registries at Babies R Us will operate for the next several weeks, she added.

"Store closure timelines are still being determined," Kahl said.

Brandon said the company was pursuing buyers who could run its Canadian business and operations in Asia and central Europe.

Toys R Us also is in talks with "certain interested parties" that could lead to 200 top-performing U.S. stores combining with the company's Canadian business, Brandon said. But in the meantime, the company will move ahead with liquidation.

The Associated Press said the U.S. closures jeopardized the jobs of at least 30,000 workers. Employees at Toys R Us and Babies R Us said they could not comment on the record.

Brandon's letter to staff said many employees would receive pay and benefits over the next 60 or 90 days, but liquidation would begin "in all stores very soon."

Mandy Hills, a Waterford native, considers herself lucky to call Toys R Us her first employer at the age of 16 in the early 2000s.  

"I used to love being able to talk with people about games and toys while I was there," she said. "Even just walking around and looking at how many toys they had was fun."

The small break room, Hills remembered, was "covered in Geoffrey wallpaper." Geoffrey the Giraffe is the company's iconic mascot.

In Waterford's Babies R Us, Caitlynne Reeves, due to have a baby boy in April, laughed and agreed it was a "dumb question" when asked if she was disappointed by news of the companywide closure.

"We are here all the time," said Reeves, of Waterford. "I did my registry here. My best friend was pregnant at the same time, and I got everything here. And another friend, too."

Reeves said she expects she'll shop for deals at Target once the closure is complete.

"I do love Target," she said. "I get in trouble there."

b.kail@theday.com

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