At one point, the line stretched from the west entrance of Southlake Mall to the food court, all the way over on the east side, dwarfing anything previously seen for a Black Friday doorbuster.

Hundreds of parents with small kids in tow descended on the super-regional enclosed mall on U.S. 30 in Hobart Thursday for Build-A-Bear's "pay your age" promotion, most waiting hours to let their children design their own customizeable teddy bears.

The bears, which normally start at $12 for basic models and can run as much as $75 for jumbo-sized, only cost whatever the child's age was, with a floor of $1 and maxing out at $29 for grown-ups. The nationwide promotion proved so successful that Build-A-Bear had to cap lines across the country Thursday morning and offer $15 coupons for a future visit to induce people to leave. The retailer said it would reach out directly to those turned away.

"They were preparing for big crowds," Southlake Mall Marketing Director Kristi Jackson said. "This is the biggest crowd I've seen in my two years at the mall. We have all hands on deck, trying to keep everyone comfortable."

By around noon, the slow-moving line wrapped up and down the entrance by Cooper's Hawk, around the escalators by JCPenney and all the way around to the Express store. Shoppers thronged the Disney Store next door, packed the food court and filled the rest of the mall once they had their bears in hand.

Ashley Conner waited in line for three hours to make it about halfway through the line, so long her phone died and her 5-year-old daughter Jordan asked to go home. She planned to get her daughter the most expensive bear available "to make it worth our while."

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"Once we have a bear, it will be worth it," he said. "It was moving fast at first, but now we've been here forever."

Emily Robb spent her birthday waiting in line to get her 8-month-old daughter, Willow, her first Build-A-Bear.

"We're definitely making a memory," she said. 

Tiffany Gard brought her grandchildren, James and Julia, and worried they would run out of bears. She passed the time talking to and getting to know strangers.

"Everybody's happy," she said. "We've been taking turns taking our kids to the bathroom. They've been getting more excited the closer we get, but I think they've been getting a little tired."

Brandon Parks's 1-year-old daughter, Malia Faith Parks, got all tuckered out with the long wait for her first Build-A-Bear and fell asleep on her daddy's chest.

"I wish I had got here earlier; I'd be gone by now," he said. 


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.