'Pay your age' promo causes chaos for Build-A-Bear

Children's toy seller Build-A-Bear was forced to halt a promotion that allowed customers to pay their age after the publicity stunt became too popular and led to safety concerns from long lineups.

Teddy bear chain overwhelmed with long lines from customers trying to get in

Long lines and short tempers were on display at many Build-A-Bear locations, including Halifax's Mic Mac Mall, during Thursday's 'pay your age' promotion. (Danielle d'Entremont/CBC)

Children's toy seller Build-A-Bear was forced to halt a promotion that allowed customers to pay their age after the publicity stunt became too popular and led to safety concerns from long lineups.

The retailer was touting a promotion online for weeks whereby a child could get a customized teddy bear for the same price as their age — a five-year-old child would pay $5 for the bear, for example. Normally, the bears cost well over $20 apiece, or more with accessories.

The promotion was supposed to be for one day only, but demand was so strong at U.S. locations that the company closed off lines soon after they opened on Thursday, citing safety concerns.

The line to get into a location in the Metropolis Mall in Burnaby, B.C., just outside Vancouver, snaked around the mall.

A promotion at a toy store chain to let kids pay their age for a teddy bear blew up, leading to disappointed customers and long lines, such as this one outside the Build-A-Bear store in Vancouver. 0:20

The chain has about 400 stores across Europe and North America, including about a dozen in Canada.

Many U.S. stores had customers waiting in line for several hours to take advantage of the promotion. It was a similar scene at some Canadian locations, as long lines required some stores to bring in added security and not let in everyone.

The deluge forced the company to cancel the promotion in some locations, and scale it back in others.

"Per local authorities, we cannot accept additional guests at our locations due to crowds and safety concerns," the chain said on its Facebook page. "We have closed lines in our U.S. and Canada stores. We understand some guests are disappointed and we will reach out directly as soon as possible."

Angela Ricardo said she was heartbroken the line was shut in Cherry Hill, N.J., shortly after that store opened. "Like many, we didn't made the cut. This was supposed to be a surprise for my 8 month old's 1st birthday… what a SURPRISE indeed," Ricardo wrote on Twitter.

"Definitely not a great experience."

Analyst Neil Saunders of GlobalData said many parents are upset and Build-a-Bear will likely have to make some special offer to customers to make up for any disappointment from the fudged promotion.

The company seems to be doing that already, saying in a statement later on Thursday that it was issuing vouchers for any customers who were in line at stores that were closed and thus unable to participate.

Vouchers will be honoured until the end of August.

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters