Toys R Us is closing its doors, yet another retail store falling victim to the scourge of online shopping and discount chains like Target and Walmart. It’s actually surprising that Toys R Us lasted this long. When KB Toys bit the dust back in 2009, the writing was on the playroom wall, but Toys R Us hung in there for as long as it could.
As a parent I have had to buy toys for the last 17 years, and although shopping online is very tempting, I have resisted for the most part because I got to know some of the workers in our local Toys R Us store. I was cognizant that this is about people’s jobs – just as I refuse to use the automatic checkout options in stores and the ATM in banks – and I could forego the ease of shopping online to support these people working in our community.
The incredulous news that Toys R Us was closing all 800 of its stores in the United States came in January, and I heard the news clearly, but I was in denial. Having shopped at our local store for Christmas gifts for my children last December, I recalled the place being vibrant and in full vigor. The Christmas music was playing and the staff operated in their usual friendly manner. All seemed right with the world, and the thought of the place closing down seemed impossible – until today.
I was driving with my son in the car, and as we passed our Toys R Us store he noticed a sign that announced that is was closing in seven days. I didn’t want to go in because, truthfully, I am no good with goodbyes, but my son insisted; he needed to see if it was really true. Alas, he also was in denial.
Huge signs were pasted on the windows announcing “Going Out of Business” and “Everything Must Go!” My son looked up at me and said, “This can’t be happening.”
I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Let’s take a look inside.”
Of course, from outside things seemed pretty grim, but once we got inside they became much worse. He ran to his favorite section – where stacked boxes of Legos used to be – and stared at the empty shelves in disbelief. He turned to me with his head down and I hugged him.
The rest of the store was not much better. One person worked at the customer service desk and another at a cash register; otherwise, we saw no other personnel. A few shoppers were sifting through a couple of piles of toys that seemed all that remained, but my son had no interest in what he labelled “that junk.”
We were greeted by rows and rows of empty shelves. The once happy place where toys shined brightly in the store’s bright fluorescent lighting now seemed like a morgue. The yellow caution tape draped between aisles made it seem reminiscent of a crime scene, and in essence that was exactly what it was – the joy of so many children had been robbed from them.
Going to Toys R Us was always greatly anticipated. I remember going for the first time with my Dad, being greeted by a life-sized Geoffrey the Giraffe at the front door, and beyond his welcoming presence lay a child’s wonderland – aisle after aisle of glistening toys. Holding Dad’s hand and walking around the store in awe, I thought that this was the greatest place in the history of greatest places.
Going to that store didn’t happen too often. We only went around my birthday and Christmas, so when we did go it was exciting. They had motorized rides in the front of the store – a motorcycle and a car in my time – and happy children’s songs playing as we walked around. It was like a kid’s paradise, but now I just wished we went there more.
I didn’t understand until many years later why my Dad didn’t take us too often when I brought my own kids. Yes, the first time was their initiation to this wonderful world of toys, but the problem was we couldn’t get out of there without buying something. When he was around three years old my son cried for five agonizing minutes because he wanted a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse play set (that now sits unused in a closet in the attic). Of course, other kids and their parents were looking at us, and I had no choice but to put the box in our shopping cart to stop the drama.
As he got older my son understood that we would go in with a set amount to spend, so that if he knew his limit was $20 he would look for toys in that range. This arrangement is why we went to the store more often than I did as a kid, but thinking about it now I don’t think my Dad would have like that idea either.
My kids enjoyed going to Toys R Us to just look at the toys as well – it became kind of like an interactive kids’ museum of toys. Especially before Christmas, we would go for them to see and touch things that they wanted to put on their lists for Santa Claus. This worked out extremely well for me because the Big Guy was footing the bill and I just got to stand there and let them make their lists.
Invariably, we would bump into people we knew in the store, and my kids would see some of their friends from school. Since it was such a happy place, everyone was in good spirits and smiling, and conversations could last a while as the adults talked and the kids went around looking at the toys together. This social aspect of the store is something I will miss as well.
All of that is gone now and it is more than a shame – it is a solemn end of a place that was an important one in my children’s lives and my life. It was as if my son and I had just attended a wake for an old friend, and there was no comfort to be taken in anything we had seen. Now the old bastion of toys had become a vacant warehouse where children’s dreams were no more.
As we left the nearly empty store my son and I walked toward the car dejectedly. Saying goodbye is always difficult to do. We passed a garbage can and I stopped and took out my wallet.
“What are you doing, Dad?” he asked.
I pulled my Toys R Us Rewards card out and it glistened in the sunshine. I used it many times and good benefits came with it, but now it was just a piece of plastic. I went to throw it away and my son stopped my hand. “Can I keep it?” he asked.
I handed it to him and whispered, “Sure, but it’s not worth anything anymore.”
He put his head down and mumbled, “I know.”
When we reached the car, my son turned around and said, “I’m going to miss this place.”
I patted him on the shoulder. “Yeah, me too.”
We got in the car and I didn’t put on the radio. My son stared out the window and we were quiet the rest of the way home.