Northern Ireland

Cuddly toy chaos at Belfast Build-A-Bear Workshop

Build-a-Bear Workshop in Victoria Square
Image caption "Extreme crowds" and safety concerns led to the closure of Build-A-Bear Workshop

Children were left in "in tears" when the Build-A-Bear Workshop in Belfast was forced to shut after a discount offer led to in-store disorder.

The teddy shop was offering customers a chance to buy any bear for the same price as the age of their child.

But police were called in when hundreds of families descended on Victoria Square shopping centre for the deal.

One father told the BBC that police said the shop closed "because people were being violent to the staff".

Teddy bears from Build-A-Bear Workshop can cost up to £52, meaning some parents could have made massive savings due to the offer.

'People violent to staff'

A sign in the window after the closure stated that "crowds have greatly exceeded our expectations" and the shop was shut "due to capacity".

There had been concerns about safety because of the "unprecedented" demand and "extreme crowds", it added.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said its officers were called to the shop at 12:40 BST on Wednesday "to maintain order" but "no offences were detected".

Similar chaotic scenes at Build-A-Bear Workshops in England led to the offer being abandoned, with some queues reaching "about a mile long".

A mother from Portadown in County Armagh said she and her daughter had travelled to Belfast to buy a bear.

"She's crying because this is what we specifically came for and it's closed," said the woman.

"They've just closed because they don't want to give so much away for cheap.

"It said on the website last night that it was open 12 [o'clock] until five and maybe extended hours if it was good - it hasn't even got to half-two.

"So it's really disappointing that we've came all this way and it's closed."

Image caption Parents said their children had been left "gutted" when the found out the shop had closed

At the scene: BBC News NI reporter Richard Morgan

The Belfast Build-A-Bear store in Victoria Square was in darkness, with no sign of any staff.

People continued to arrive with their young children who were promised a new teddy.

Kids were crying, looking through the window and asking mum and dad why they could not get a bear.

The queue is said to have been vast and the scene inside chaotic.

Parents did not hold back expressing their anger and criticism, one telling me she will not return to the store in the future.

Lesley Graham, a mother of three from Carrickfergus in County Antrim, blamed the shop staff, saying they were not prepared for the demand.

"Obviously they weren't prepared and if they had been they would've had provision put in place in order to cope with it," she said.

'Should have anticipated crowds'

Her children were "obviously not very happy" as they looked through the windows of the closed shop.

"The cost of the bears at the normal price, I wouldn't be paying for them so they'll not be getting any," she added.

Image caption Build-A-Bear Workshop said crowds greatly exceeded its expectations

Another parent - a mother of two - said the shop's managers "should've put steps in place in place to deal with the crowds" that wanted to visit the store.

"We've got a very upset three-year-old - came to get a bear and the shop was closed so it's very disappointing.

"Surely they would've anticipated large crowds - I don't understand why they would've underestimated the amount of interest.

"The bears are usually quite expensive and we would've been paying £3 for one - obviously there was going to be a lot of interest so I don't know why they didn't anticipate that."

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