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Santa Rosa Plaza's Build-A-Bear store to close

The good, old-fashioned teddy bear has been dealt a blow.

Build-A-Bear Workshop in Santa Rosa Plaza, where children and adults alike can fashion the custom-made stuffed animal of their dreams, is planning to close its doors for good on Jan. 27, along with about 50 other stores in the chain nationwide.

Fans of the Santa Rosa store, which became popular as a venue for creative birthday parties, were disappointed by the news.

“I’m sad. My kids love this place,” said Christina Ramirez, 27, of Rohnert Park. “I really, really hope they can stay.”

The shop opened in November 2010 as a temporary store at the Plaza, which is part of the reason it’s leaving, said Kim Hall, area marketing director for Simon Properties. A different, permanent store will be moving into its space, but its name has not yet been released, Hall said.

“They’ll be missed, but I think sometimes those different kinds of children’s activities run their course,” Hall said.

The chain plans to close an additional 50 to 60 stores over the next two years, said Jill Saunders, its director of public relations. Meanwhile, the chain recently opened a half-dozen new stores with an updated design.

“The new concept takes the Build-A-Bear Workshop experience to the next level by combining the love of a teddy bear with the best of innovative digital technology,” Saunders said in an email.

Competing with more technologically savvy toys may have been tough for a teddy bear, as children’s attention drifted to electronic games and digitally enhanced toys like the popular “Furby” dolls.

“The younger kids are so much more exposed to electronics and things like that, but I think parents like the nostalgia of bringing them back to something more simple,” Hall said.

Staff of the store were offered transfers to other Build-A-Bear locations, Saunders said.

The Gap Kids store also will be closing Jan. 27, as parent company Gap Inc. works to reduce its footprint by closing more than 100 stores nationwide.

Shoppers have a new Sephora store to look forward to, which is expected to open in the mall in June, Hall said. Sephora will move into the space currently occupied by Eddie Bauer, which is moving closer to Macy’s, she said.

At Build-A-Bear, a young girl gazed at a machine full of fluffy white cotton stuffing churning around and around. Danielle Ramirez, Christina’s mom, reminisced about the informal ceremony the store staff performed with her grandchildren before placing a tiny, pillow-like heart into their furry dolls.

“They rub it on the head for smarts, and they rub it on the knee so they’ll ‘need’ you,” Ramirez said. “That’s my favorite part.”

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