I’m a Toys R Us kid.
Sorry, the keyboard won’t do the backwards “R.” That’s why you’ll see us media types sometimes put the “R” in quotations marks, but apparently it’s no longer Associated Press style to do so.
That’s poetic and a little ironic. If only typography were the extent of the giant toy retailer’s giant problems.
Last week, the closure of all Toys R Us stores was announced. They chain has been in bankruptcy proceedings for some time, trying to salvage a debt-ridden business from the jaws of failure, and it looked like it might survive, at least in the U.S., in some reduced form. After all, the “Rewards” emails I had subscribed to kept coming like always — until they started coming even more frequently and almost frantically, until they just reeked of desperation.
Then the emails stopped entirely. A Toys R Us second wind just wasn’t meant to be.
Death by a thousand cuts is what some say. Others: The writing was on the wall. But it didn’t have to be this way. Without the crushing debt, it could have been very different — despite Wal-Mart, despite Amazon and the growth of direct-to-door services and digital goods.
When I posted the news, one of my Facebook friends said it’s “no big loss” — but it is. There’s something to be said for a place that curates interesting things in interesting ways, as opposed to just shoveling all the things at you in a constant feed. (Keep in mind my own biases, coming as I do from a newspaper background…) That’s why services like Birch Box and Loot Crate have caught on as they have.
Maybe we’ll see the Toys R Us brand endure in some way, like those things or some kind of digital marketplace — but, honestly, it should have been branching out into those business models long before now. And that’s part of the problem.
Toys R Us was always a destination — even for me, who had to drive nearly an hour for the nearest store (Colorado Springs these days). It’s where I snagged Pokemon Go Plus wristband devices for family members obsessed with the game, and a no-brainer stop on our holiday shopping pilgrimage.
As a kid growing up in Phoenix, I didn’t have a Toys R Us. It was a mythical place seen only in Nickelodeon TV commercials and shopping sprees, the exclusive home of Green Slime Shampoo. On a trip to California for my older brother’s wedding, finally visiting the toy superstore was a must — and the highlight, for me, naturally. (I got the shampoo; it was suitably gross, I guess, for something that smelled like bubble gum.)
Toys R Us eventually came to me, though. Oddly enough, it’s where I bought my first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook. It’s where I got GameBoy and recruited countless G.I. Joes. It’s where I got busted with friends on Senior Ditch Day bouncing around on those big, bouncy ball things.
Later, as I got into journalism in college and at my first job at the East Valley Tribune (pre-Nerdvana days), a now-already-shuttered Toys R Us in Mesa, Ariz., is where I covered the midnight stampede for merchandise tied to the release of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.
Now it’s poised to become just another empty big-box store dotting a decimated retail landscape next to America’s struggling malls.
But I’ll always be a Toys R Us kid.