I Don’t Want to Grow Up: An Ode to Toys ‘R’ Us

toys r us store front
 
childrens palace toy store peter panda

My pre-Toys R Us hangout…Children’s Palace

When I was little, the place to go in Indiana actually wasn’t Toys ‘R’ Us. Ayr-Way (which was bought by Target), Kaybee Toys, Service Merchandise, and a local store called Ed Schock’s Toy and Hobby Shop in Broad Ripple were great ways to get all the Star Wars that you dreamed of…but the peak of excitement as a child was Children’s Palace. It was a giant store completely devoted to toys, and it seemed to have what the other stores were missing with bigger numbers. Toys ‘R’ Us arrived in the early ’80s and proved a challenge to the competing toy stores while eventually coming out on top…and dooming itself.

toys r us store going out of business

The hours I spent here deciding between Mekanek and Roboto…

Toy ‘R’ Us was founded in 1957 by Charles Lazarus in Washington, D.C. as the Children’s Supermarket. It evolved, spread and eventually took the name of Toys ‘R’ Us. It had the luxury of having massive supplies (even during shortages) and generally nice centralized locations outside of malls around the country. It peppered Saturday Morning Cartoon commercial breaks with peppy songs about being a “Toys ‘R’ Us kid” and commercials featured shiny-faced kids before-they-were-stars like Jaleel White and Jenny Lewis. In Indy, Toy ‘R’ Us eventually had a store near each of the major malls, and big buying events like Black Friday attracted buyers from all over to the stores.

toys r us vintage star wars picture

The joy of more Star Wars than you could ever handle

Toy ‘R’ Us first had to get rid of the competition. It literally moved next door to Children’s Palace. As a kid, this was awesome (probably no so much for adults). You could hit both toy stores and if Children’s Palace didn’t have it, Toys ‘R’ Us probably did. Toy ‘R’ Us also seemed to undercut Children’s Palace’s prices as well. Star Wars and Masters of the Universe toys always seemed slightly cheaper at Toys ‘R’ Us…and flipping through the pegs always seemed to house new and better action figures.

Toy ‘R’ Us also took on video games. Atari was already kind of in its death-knell, but you could find old Atari and Intellivision games at Toys R Us. Nintendo exploded onto the scene and going to Toys ‘R’ Us presented a greater hope of finding something like Zelda II or Super Mario Bros. 2 when other stores were sold out. The store had this sadistic approach to their games with little flip cards that housed tickets behind the price tag…while it looked like a game was “in”, it often was flipped to discover that it was sold out. If you were lucky enough to find your game, you took the ticket and began the painful wait for the clerk to get it from a window at the front of the store. It was agony and ecstasy…it was a heavenly process.

toys r us video game tickets

The torture of the video game ticket wall

Things began to change for Toys ‘R’ Us however. Granted, I was getting older, but actions figures started getting less dynamic and the collector’s market soared. Adults would buy the best toys, and the shipments would be bought out before a kid even got to it. If you wanted a specific toy to play with the chances of you finding it began to shrink.  Children’s Palace closed in the ’90s and next door to Toys ‘R’ Us opened Indy’s first Best Buy. Best Buy now offered the best video game and at the best prices while Toys ‘R’ Us’s prices began to rise.

As you went to Toys ‘R’ Us, the one chocked full isles seemed smaller and smaller, and clothing and other standard store items began to show up in areas that were once devoted to piles and piles of toys. Toys ‘R’ Us’s Baby ‘R’ Us and Kids ‘R’ Us chains closed their individual stores and merged with Toys ‘R’ Us further forcing out more of the toys. The once mighty toy isles of the store seemed to shrink and fill with car seats, toddler clothes, and baby beds.  It also always seemed so disorganized and sloppy.  Soon, places like Target and Walmart seemed to have as many toys as “the toy giant”.

toys r us store going out of business

The end is near…

With Amazon’s arrival and the boom of more multimedia toys and games, Toys ‘R’ Us didn’t seem to have as much of a place in the market and finally in 2018, it announced it was closing.  There were some attempts to save the store with buyers and others trying to come to the aid of the store and the iconic FAO Schwarz toy store (which Toys R Us absorbed in 2009) was sold off in 2016 giving hope that it could still have a future.  Unfortunately, the idea of stores with big inventory and lots of selection were struggling and the fact that Toy ‘R’ Us couldn’t compete price-wise didn’t help…a kid can only afford so much.

toys r us commercial kid geoffrey giraffe

The sun sets on another childhood memory

Still, there is something missing with the death of Toys ‘R’ Us. Looking at a computer and picking a picture of a toy you want or a game you like isn’t the same as entering a store and finding it on the shelf. It is the tangible nature of holding the thing that makes you complete as a kid and fulfils your birthday wishes. The joy of you finding it, and it finding you. The jingle might live on in my head forever even if the store does not. I went into the old Toys ‘R’ Us as the inventory was being picked apart by bargain hunters and aisles where my He-Men and Star Wars used to live are plastered with Going-Out-of-Business signs…it was sad to see another part of childhood gone. I don’t want to grow up, but with the passing of Toys ‘R’ Us, it looks like kids and the kids at heart all might have to…RIP Geoffrey the Giraffe.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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