CLEARWATER — The end of an era set in for shoppers across the country Friday when Toys R Us stores opened their doors, revealing store-wide markdowns in its anticipated liquidation sales.
Before the Toys R Us on Countryside Boulevard in Clearwater opened, about two dozen shoppers waited in the parking lot and in front of the sliding glass doors.
Emotions were mixed: savvy-shopper parents hoped to snag deals, but were also sad to see a store they grew up with — and now beloved by their children — closing forever.
"They're grieving," said Angela Kahuen, as her two daughters stood nearby. "They're definitely a little sad."
Her 9-year-old pressed her face into the door's glass, waiting for a store clerk to open them at 10 a.m. Kahuen's children focused their attention on Littlest Pet Shop toys, rather than on it being one of the last regular trips the family would take to the giant toy store.
Inside, most the inventory was marked down 10 to 20 percent. Deeper discounts are expected later into the sale.
Toys R Us had been operating its 735 U.S. stores under bankruptcy protection for months. The company said at the beginning of this year it was going to close only select stores. But by March, the 70-year-old chain announced its restructuring plans weren't enough to save any of its stores, including Babies R Us locations.
It's unclear when the stores will be closed for business, but the company has said it will stop accepting gift cards on April 21, according to the Associated Press.
Kahuen, of Dunedin, said Toys R Us has always been a special place for her kids. What child doesn't want to be surrounded by aisles and aisles of toys?
"The other places aren't like that," she said, referring to big-box retailers like Target and Walmart. "They don't get that same excitement."
Dixie Ross, also of Dunedin, came without her children — 7, 10, and 13, — to check out the sales Friday. She said she'd be keeping an eye on the outdoor toys. Bikes were marked down 10 percent. She decided to wait for them fall lower before she thought of buying one.
Some families left empty handed after perusing the sale prices. Big-ticket items such as LEGO sets were only marked down 5 percent. American Girl dolls and Barbies were marked down 10 percent.
Roller skates and skateboard had discounts of 30 percent, as did cards and gift wrapping. All Easter items were marked down 20 percent.
The baby clothes, which sit inside the store's game area and "play lab," were also marked down 20 percent.
Flora Yang, who lives a quick 10-minute drive from the store, followed her 3-year-old daughter into play area, where a wall was covered with children's colored pictures.
One of them had a messaged scrawled out in red crayon: "RIP Toys R Us (and) to my childhood."
Yang watched as her daughter opened the plastic door to a small play house only to quickly abandon it once she saw a Connect Four game set on the nearby table.
"She just started understanding what Toys R Us is a few weeks ago," the mother said. "She knows she can play here. She's going to keep asking to come."
Contact Sara DiNatale at email@example.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.