After a week of rumors, the news is now apparently official: Toys R Us will close all of its US stores, likely before the start of summer. There is a sliver of hope that maybe some stores will be spared, but they will be few and far between, and who knows how long they will remain anyway.
Toys R Us was an essential part of my childhood, as it was for any child. If a good report card was received, that meant a trip to Toys R Us for a new toy as a reward. Birthdays and Christmas likewise warranted a trip to Toys R Us. And then there was just the random in the area trips, where we would stop in and look around, and of course, pick out a new toy, whether it be a Matchbox Car, or a baseball action figure, or maybe a new Lego set.
And who could forget in early December, when the new Toys R Us toy catalog came out! It was a Christmas dream book! So many toys, so many dreams to dance in our heads.
To my brother and I, the store was literally amazing: a store devoted entirely to toys. And that made perfect sense: Pathmark and Walbaums sold food; JC Penny and Macy’s sold clothes, and Toys R Us sold toys. Sure there were variety stores that sold a little bit of everything like K-Mart and Caldors, but that was it: a little bit of everything, only Toys R Us had every toy there ever was, at least so it seemed.
In recent years, the trips to Toys R Us have been less frequent, but no less memorable and no less lost causes. Trips to larger towns, and vacations, always led to the toy store, not for a specific purpose, but more to wander the aisles, and reminisce, see what the kids are playing with these days. And who knew, a few items found their way into the cart and came home, because when you have a store so large, with so many toys, a few are bound to appeal, even to the slightly aging adult: there is the 1960’s model Batmobile, as well as the R2-D2 piggy bank, and the Yoda piggy bank; and of course, more Legos.
But no more. By the time vacation rolls around this year, there will be no Toys R Us waiting for us to stop and stretch our legs and wander its aisles. There will be no eye opening moment for my children that a single store could possibly be devoted solely to toys, solely to children and their wishes and dreams.
I imagine when there are only a few marbles still rolling around in my head and I recall the days when there was this magical place called Toys R Us, a store devoted entirely to toys, my children and grandchildren will look at me much the same way I look at those who speak of outhouses and party lines and trading milk and eggs for flour and sugar, the memories of a long by-gone era.
They will only know of Walmart and Target and Amazon and whatever else comes next. They will only know of a world where large empty box stores sit on the side of major highways, where Toys R Us and Barnes & Noble and other stores once stood.
I long suspect I was born in the wrong time in history, if for no other reason than I hate shopping online and would much rather wander the aisles of a store like Toys R Us or go to the mall and spend the day eating at the food court and walking from one end to the other seeing a whole variety of stores each selling a specific line of products, whether it be books or toys or kitchen supplies or clothes or who knows what else.
But this is the era I now live, and I will survive without Toys R Us, and eventually without a host of other stores that will likewise disappear for any number of reasons; and I suspect one day I will join the rest of civilization in online shopping.
But for today, I grieve, because I’m a Toys R Us kid, and my children will never be able to say that.