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KB Toys closes 356 stores

KB Toys is eliminating 3,500 jobs and closing 356 stores across the country, including two in the Tampa Bay area, the struggling retailer said Thursday.

Prices have already been marked down at the KB Toy Outlet in Crossroads Mall in Clearwater and at the KB Toys in International Plaza, both of which are expected to close their doors in a matter of weeks when all of the inventory has been sold.

KB, which is based in Pittsfield, Mass., operates 57 stores in Florida; 16 of them are being shut down. While spokesman John Reilly would not give employee or store numbers for the region, the company's Web site indicates that there are six remaining bay area stores in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Brandon and Port Richey.

But their status, as well, is unclear. By Feb. 11, the company will identify between 19 and 115 additional store closings, reducing the chain to about 750 stores.

The 3,500 job cuts in the first phase amount to nearly 30 percent of the company's workforce.

The closings come two weeks after the toy chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, citing a disappointing holiday shopping season and increased price competition from major discount retailers like Wal-Mart. KB Toys expects revenues of as much as $122.5-million from the inventory sales.

"Overall, this step greatly strengthens KB Toy's financial position and puts KB Toys in a position to compete more effectively in the future," chief executive officer Michael Glazer said in a statement released Thursday.

Glazer said the stores chosen for liquidation are either underperforming or do not fit the company's new strategy. Store managers were notified Monday that their stores would be closing, spokesman Reilly said.

At the International Plaza location in Tampa, the liquidation sale began on a muted note. Several banners told passersby: "Everything is on sale _ Nothing will be held back." Yet, besides a few redlined price tags, it appeared to be business as usual.

Few shoppers took advantage of the markdowns; one in the store Thursday afternoon said she couldn't even tell there was a sale.

Frank Morton, managing director of Ozer Group, a Massachusetts company overseeing the liquidation, said markdowns would begin at up to 40 percent off. The sale will continue until everything is sold.

"I think it should take weeks, rather than months, to officially close the stores given the value of what's out there for the customers," Morton said.

The move comes just three years after the retail chain was purchased in a $300-million deal by a group of managers from Ohio closeout chain Big Lots.

_ Benita Newton can be reached at or (727) 893-8318.