A disgusted mum has vowed to never return to Build A Bear after she and her autistic son were allegedly told they would have to stay in the hours-long queue despite him having a “meltdown” because of his condition.
Along with hundreds of other parents and grandparents, Francesca Ketley, 24, had queued with her fiancé Karl Rimmer, 35, to get bears for their children Isaac, four, and Alfie, one.
The family got to St Stephen’s Shopping Centre at 8.40am and entered the store just after 10am but the wait in the queue made Isaac agitated and restless.
What Miss Ketley says happened
Miss Ketley, who lives in Sutton Road, near Bransholme, said: “He is autistic and disabled and the security guard could see he was hand slapping and getting upset with himself.
“The security guard and a Build A Bear member of staff came over and asked if he was OK. I said he was getting upset and stressed so they let us come through to the till to speak to the manager to see if we could get a quick bear made.
“One member of staff went to get the manager and offered us two pre-made bears which we were willing to pay for but then manager came back and said we would have to re-join the queue or he would give us this money off voucher.”
‘I was disgusted’
As queues got out of control at the shopping centre, teddy bear lovers were given the chance to take home a £12 off voucher which they could use in the future in store instead of queuing.
Miss Ketley, who had no choice but to take struggling Isaac out the queue, says she was offered two of these vouchers.
But she was not happy with the vouchers and felt she should have been able to take advantage of the Pay Your Age Day offer.
“The manager changed his mind and I told him I was disgusted,” she said. “I couldn’t believe the way they treated a disabled child who was obviously very upset.
“He has had a meltdown and he can’t understand why he couldn’t have a bear. It’s hard for him to register and I was disgusted with the whole service.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before from Build A Bear. Isaac just wanted to take part like every other child in the UK will have wanted to do today.
“Why should my son be treated any differently to the normal everyday child?”
‘I will never shop there again’
Devastated by her bad experience, Miss Ketley took to Facebook to rant about how her family were allegedly treated.
On the Hull store’s Facebook page, she posted a one star review and wrote: “Disgusting service today I explain my 4 year old son was disabled and autism that can’t cope with the queue and noise.
“One lady was lovely but the manager didn’t care wouldn’t even let me buy a pre made one and fob me off with a voucher of money.
“Disgusting you should of thought about disabled children it not fair they should miss out.”
Miss Ketley has declared she will never shop at Build A Bear again.
She said: “I will never go back there again – not after being treated like that. I wasn’t asking for much – all I wanted was a pre-made bear. Isaac would have been happy with a simple teddy.”
What St Stephen’s Shopping Centre says
Miss Ketley has since raised her concerns with Build A Bear and St Stephen’s Shopping Centre after Thursday morning’s incident.
A Build A Bear spokesman said the event had generated an “overwhelming response” and said vouchers were offered to customers to avoid disappointment for those unable to get a bear.
A spokesman said: “It is our sincere desire for all of our guests to enjoy the best Build-A-Bear experience possible. As such, our goal with the voucher extension is to enable us to better flow traffic to the stores over the next several weeks to avoid long queues and wait times as much as possible.
“Therefore, we strongly encourage guests to consider delaying their trip to Build-A-Bear, and we appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience in this matter.”
Jim Harris, centre manager for St Stephen’s, said he was aware of Miss Ketley’s concerns but reiterated that security staff acted promptly and efficiently to try and resolve the situation in the best interests of the child.
He said: “Obviously it’s very difficult when you have got an autistic child in that kind of atmosphere. As we understand it, the child was getting distressed and we were able to put the mother directly in contact with the manager of Build A Bear.
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“We don’t then know what they did or what they offered to the customer.”
The shopping centre had to deal with an unprecedented amount of people who flocked to the centre to try and bag themselves a bargain teddy bear.
At its height, more than 500 people stood patiently waiting to get their hands on a cheap bear and at certain points during the day, security were forced to restrict people from entering the queue due to “safety concerns and extreme crowds.”
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