A rash of retailing bankruptcies is expected in the new year, but as the clock winds down on one of the weakest holiday shopping seasons in decades, the fallout has already begun.

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A rash of retailing bankruptcies is expected in the new year, but as the clock winds down on one of the weakest holiday shopping seasons in decades, the fallout has already begun.

On Monday, Parent Co., an Internet retailer of children’s products, had the dubious distinction of becoming the first well-known retailer to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after Christmas.

The company made the filing along with nine of its subsidiaries, including eToys and BabyUniverse.

Many analysts did not expect bankruptcy filings to begin until January or early February.

Michael Wagner, chief executive of Parent Co., called the filing “an unfortunate but necessary and responsible step to preserve the company’s value for our stakeholders in light of the ongoing challenging retail environment.”

Challenging is hardly the word.

This year, retailers including Circuit City, Boscov’s, Sharper Image, Mervyns, Linens ‘N Things, Whitehall Jewelers and Steve & Barry’s filed for bankruptcy protection. And that is likely the tip of the iceberg.

After studying more than 180 companies, AlixPartners, a restructuring firm, estimates that over the next 24 months there will be a fourfold increase in the number of retailers in deep distress — companies that do not have enough working capital or are unable to finance their debt.

“Unfortunately, this is the new normal,” said Matthew Katz, a managing director in the retailing practice of AlixPartners.

Retailers had one of the worst holiday shopping seasons in decades, with sales falling by double digits in nearly all categories, including apparel, luxury goods, furniture, and electronics and appliances, according to SpendingPulse, a report by MasterCard Advisors that estimates retail sales from all forms of payment.

Like many retailers, Parent Co. was hit hard by the freeze in consumer spending.

To attract consumers during the crucial holiday shopping season, eToys offered up to 60 percent off more than 1,300 toys and games, including brands like Hannah Montana, My Little Pony and TMX Elmo.

But Denver-based Parent Co., which is considering selling some or all of its businesses, was not simply a victim of the recession. The company’s history of troubles is deeper than the grandest of toy chests.

eToys filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and its assets were bought by KB Toys, for more than $5 million.

KB Toys, which filed for bankruptcy in 2004, filed again this month. It has already begun going-out-of-business sales.

Parent Co.is majority owned by D.E. Shaw & Co. The company, which listed assets of $20.6 million and debt of $35.7 million, is seeking permission for a $10.9 million loan from a Shaw affiliate to keep operations running while it seeks a buyer.

Like luxury retailing, the toy sector was once considered insulated from the economic downturn, but no more.

James Lewellis, a retailing research associate at Needham & Co., said recently that toy retailers have too much inventory and have had to significantly cut prices.

He estimated sales will fall at least 5 percent compared with last year.

“It’s all about liquidity,” said Katz of AlixPartners.

“What retailers are trying to do is turn their inventory into working capital and use that to fund the operation and to fund the debt load. And without that your lifeline is soft or gone,” he said.