(CBSNEWS) – Toys “R” Us is expected to start court proceedings to liquidate as soon as Thursday. That’s a first legal step in moving to close all of its 850 brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S. — and to lay off up to 33,000 workers.
The retailer, which declared bankruptcy in September, was unable to convince creditors to refinance its more than $5 billion in debt, a crushing load that experts say hampered its ability to adapt to the growth in online shopping, among other consumer trends. Toys “R” Us’ international businesses, which have operations in 38 countries, aren’t covered by the filing, a person close to the situation said.
Other details such as what will happen to Toys “R” Us gift cards and whether employees will receive severance haven’t been worked out.
Liquidating Toys “R” Us would to the largest layoff in the retail sector since at least 2015 and would be 12th-largest job cut announcement since 1993, trailing the 34,000 people who lost their jobs when Circuit City went out of business in 2009, according to Challenger, Grey & Christmas, an executive outplacement firm. Last year alone, retailers cut 76,000 jobs as 7,000 stores closed.
“It would be a tough market for those folks to go into with their specific skills,” said Andy Challenger, a vice president at Challenger Grey.
According to Bloomberg, Toys “R” Us has missed payments to some suppliers without explanation and has quit negotiating on money owed before its initial bankruptcy filing last fall, when CEO David Brandon declared that “today marks the dawn of a new era at Toys “R” Us where we expect that the financial constraints that have held us back will be addressed in a lasting and effective way.”
A spokesperson for Toys “R” Us declined to comment.
The big-box toy retailer’s demise was years in the making. The chain was hobbled by debt stemming from the 2005 leveraged buyout by KKR, Bain Capital and Vornado Realty Trust (VNO). That deal placed it at disadvantage against larger rivals such as Amazon (AMZN), Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT), which have made inroads in the toy market in recent years. A 2016 IBISWorld report estimated Toys “R” Us’ share of the retail toy market was 13.6 percent, lagging Amazon’s 16.3 percent and Walmart’s 23.9 percent.