Let's cut to the chase. If you've got a gift card from Toys 'R' Us, you have until Friday or Saturday to use it in the Twin Cities. Probably.
Reps at most of Twin Cities Toys R Us/ Babies R Us stores indicated that customers have until Saturday to use them, but a rep in the Blaine store said Friday is the last day. Some stores on the East Coast were refusing to accept them earlier this week. Stores are expected to close in June.
Toys R Us represents only the tip of the iceberg. Yesterday, Bon-Ton announced that it will liquidate its 200 department stores, including 14 Herberger's stores in Minnesota. Earlier this year Claire's jewelry filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Regardless of the business, smart money isn't letting any gift cards collect dust these days.
Rating agency Moody's puts 26 retailers on the list for most at risk in 2018. They include Sears, Kmart, J Crew, Neiman Marcus, Fresh Market, Charlotte Russe, David's Bridal, General Nutrition Center (GNC), Guitar Center, Nine West, Toms Shoes, Cole Haan, Gymboree, Rue 21, The Walking Company, True Religion apparel, Charming Charlie, Vince apparel, Fingerhut, Eddie Bauer, Savers thrift, Totes Isotoner and Payless Shoes,
Consumers shouldn't wait until stores or restaurants are on their last days to redeem gift cards, said Dan Hendrickson, spokesman for the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. Generally, the later consumers wait, the more likely they will walk away empty-handed.
When rumors of Gander Mountain's bankruptcy started in March 2017, gift cards were still being accepted, but by the time stores were starting closing sales in May, gift cards were no longer being accepted. Consumers who expected post-liquidation Gander Outdoors stores to accept them were also disappointed.
Unfortunately, with these sudden closings, consumers don’t have a lot of options, Hendrickson said in an email. "In many cases, the best they could do is follow bankruptcy proceedings closely and try to file a claim. My understanding, though, is that such consumers would be towards the bottom of the list of creditors who might see some kind of refund. And even then it would likely be pennies on the dollar."
Consumers need to be just as careful about sudden restaurant closings. In 2017, more than 60 Twin Cities restaurants shut their doors. Some closed without warning and others gave customers notice.
Greg Christian of Auction Masters in Osseo, which often sells restaurant equipment from local mom and pop restaurants that have closed, said that restaurants only one or two years old are often the most vulnerable to closing. "Maybe the concept doesn't work. In one or two years it's still being tested," he said.
What do experts recommend in times of retail and restaurant turmoil?
Redeem gift cards promptly.
Ask for a gift card at a place you go often, if it's a gift.
Look into a business' financial condition before buying gift cards. Search online for news articles about financial condition.
Buy gift cards with caution at restaurants less than two years old. In 2017, seven Twin Cities restaurants closed that had been open less than a year.