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Toys ‘Were’ Us

I was four-years-old when I met Darth Vader. My memory of the event is foggy, but I remember it was dark so it must have been either early or late. It was cold. We — my mom and I — stood outside in the Toys ‘R’ Us parking lot waiting for the advertised celebrities to greet us. First was Spider-man, followed by the Hulk, but the one I remember most vividly was Darth Vader. For all I know, whoever wore that black costume, helmet, and cape that day was just some teenager who worked at the store, but to me, I honestly thought I had met the real Dark Lord of the Sith — right there in the Toys ‘R’ Us parking lot.

Earlier this week, Toys ‘R’ Us announced their plan to close 180 stores, approximately one-fifth of their locations. The location where I met Darth Vader (1119 SE 66th St.) is on the list.

As a kid, everyone I knew referred to that location as the Crossroads Mall Toys ‘R’ Us, as it was located directly north of the mall. When Crossroads Mall originally opened in 1974, it was one of the ten largest malls in the country, and opening a toy store right next to it probably made great business sense. Between crime and the economy, Crossroads Mall began to decline in the mid-2000s, and officially closed its doors (the first time) in 2011. No doubt those factors contributed to the decline of that Toys ‘R’ Us location as well. In a blog post I wrote back in 2006 I referred to the location was “Toys Were Us” in reference to the lack of stock on the shelves. In that same article, I made the following prediction:

The whole store was completely picked over with lots of bare shelves and massive price slashing. The first wave of Toys R’ Us stores have already closed; I suspect ours is about to join them.

It wasn’t a Nostradamus-level prediction; the writing was definitely on the wall.

Essentially every memory of Toys ‘R’ Us I have, and every story I’ve ever told about something that took place at Toys ‘R’ Us, happened at this location. This was the store where my dad took me to buy Space Invaders for the Atari 2600 when it was released in 1980. It was the same location where I purchased many of my Dungeons and Dragons manuals. When Hasbro began releasing new Star Wars figures in the mid-1990s, this is one the few places that had every figure available. I have memories of browsing the aisles with my parents, looking at everything. I have memories of browsing the aisles with my children, letting them look at everything.

And I’m part of the reason it’s closing — people like me, who shop online. We exclusively did all of our Christmas shopping last year online; Amazon, mostly. Even if I were to go to Toys ‘R’ Us, it probably wouldn’t be that one. There’s another one closer to us now, up north — newer, in a nicer part of town.

We don’t go to that one either.

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3 comments to Toys ‘Were’ Us

  • Paul in AZ

    It’s a shame about Toys-R-Us, but I didn’t have the same connection to it that a lot of folks had. Our toy store was a local place down the street. By the time we were parents, Walmart and Target made more sense (they didn’t have the selection, but the prices were far better); if we were looking for cheap, we went to the KayBee outlet up in Anthem (or back in Centereach, NY) before THEY went out of business.

  • k8track

    I only have a handful of Toys ‘Я’ Us memories; I didn’t live near one (it was 1.5 hours away) and only got to go there when my friend and his family went to Peoria, and I rode along. Back then, it was the big two toy stores; Children’s Palace was the other one. I thought Children’s Palace was slightly cooler because they had a separate room for video games, and they had the actual stock on the shelves instead of the slip system that Toys ‘Я’ Us had. Three memories stand out:

    1. When I was in 8th grade, I was obsessed with wanting Frogger 2: Threeedeep! for the Atari 2600. We were in Peoria for my friend’s birthday at Showbiz Pizza. We ducked out to Toys ‘Я’ Us next door, where I saw it for $10, but by then I’d spent all my meager cash earlier that day at Kay-Bee, for Buck Rogers, Amidar, and Plaque Attack. My friend’s parents would not lend me the money. I am still upset about that to this day.

    2. Again with my friend there a year later (April 1986), we saw a section of brand new black box games by Nintendo. We’d never heard of or seen those before; it was the first time. At that time, my only source of video game information were video game magazines, which had all dried up by the previous year, so I had no idea what these were. My friend stated then and there that he was going to get that system, and that fall, he did.

    3. I got my Commodore 64 two years after that, April 1988. Toys ‘Я’ Us had an amazing C64 section, and I was so happy I was able to pick out some games from the wonderful selection. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I got Test Drive and The Great American Cross Country Road Race.

    I have not been back to Toys ‘Я’ Us in years.

  • InsaneDavid

    A tremendous (although not entire) reason Toys R Us is where it is now is due to the ineptitude of Gerald Storch. While the company did have a few positive changes during the Storch years, he constantly lead the company further down the debt hole, eventually at breakneck speed. His sole task was to spin the whole smash back around into an IPO after a few years, which never even began to materialize. Everyone who he would handpick to be on his board of directors would quit within a year or so of their appointment. Then he’d handpick more people and they would all quit. “Tough taskmaster” is often the phrase used to describe him but “incompetent weasel” is a better term. Now I’ve only ever met and known the guy in a professional capacity but my statement stands.

    When he stepped down about four years ago (ie let go with a golden parachute) things did change for the better and a more common sense approach began. Essentially a good deal of the corporate structure and strategy was wiped clean. This is what lead to all TRU locations burning through the ancient clearance they were heavy with in 2014 or so with the colored clearance markdowns. That allowed removal of product that was clogging the stores and supply chain in addition to a sales boost, even if they were markdowns. No more stupid ideas like being open for 72 hours every weekend in December, which did nothing but burn payroll and trash stores with minimal sales. Also a bigger focus on high-margin sales with private label products. Again, common sense core retail that it seems the entire industry has forgotten about.

    The online shopping or “Amazon showrooming” argument was Storch’s scapegoat for years while he watched the ship sink as he blew money on stores on the other side of the globe. He wanted to put freaking grocery departments in Toys R Us. (Which Target would eventually do, one of his plans from his days there, and that sure as hell hasn’t helped them any) Total wrong approach, as everything he did just made more debt with no return.

    The key was trimming the inventory fat, opening smaller stores, slimming down the distribution model, pushing private label (while increasing its quality), and brand-targeted interchangeable store fixtures. By the time that all got underway and the tail spin started to level off, the plane was simply filled with too much debt from nearly a decade of misdirection under Storch – who was allowed to do pretty much anything he wanted during his time at the top.

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