As with many national tragedies (like the death of Courage, the first Thanksgiving turkey pardoned by President Obama, and the discontinuation of Crystal Pepsi), we all remember where we were when we heard the recent devastating news that Toys “R” Us was closing all of its U.S. stores.
I was in the car with my children when the radio announcer tearfully (no, really) reported that all of the Toys “R” Us kids out there would now be forced to grow up and enter puberty, whether they wanted to or not. Although my three adolescent daughters have pretty much moved on to retail establishments requiring more extensive lines of credit, they reacted with a collective wail – as if Christmas, Easter, and all other holidays co-opted by the toy industry would now be strictly religious observances. And I have to admit that I, too, felt a twinge of bittersweet wistfulness in the wallet area upon hearing about the shuttering of a business that has provided my family with so many yard sale items over the years.
Other than filling my home with mountains of plastic happiness for the past decade, “The House that Geoffrey Built” has also given my children hours of comparatively low-cost entertainment within the store itself. When my daughters were younger, a visit to Toys “R” Us was every bit as exciting to them as a vacation to one of the parent-torturing amusement parks throughout this great land of ours. In fact, anytime someone mentioned the “D” word, all I had to do was suggest that we run by Toys “R” Us to see what new trinkets the Mattel Corporation was pumping out, and it was as if Mickey Mouse was, once again, just an ordinary glove-wearing rodent with a creepy voice.
Whenever we entered the store, I was always struck with how clean it appeared (and smelled), despite the vast numbers of grubby toddlers with loaded diapers foraging throughout the aisles with their dazed parents in tow. Now that I think about it, the sanitized aroma was probably just the overpowering eau de polyethylene from the Barbie section, specifically formulated to lull unsuspecting parents into a pink accessory-buying stupor.
My daughters were always partial to what I called the future hoarder section, including Shopkins, My Little Pony and other toy brands that issue a new irresistible series or “season” of items about once every five minutes.
One year, a couple of weeks before Christmas, I waited in line for the store to open so that I could purchase each of my girls a large “limited edition” package of Shopkins, only to discover when I reached the check-out line that a maximum of two packs were allowed per customer.Well, I wasn’t about to stand for this injustice, so I did what any other self-respecting dad would do for his children.I called my wife - who left work to come and buy the other package before they ran out.Little did we know at the time that this “limited edition” was limited to at least ten packages per child in the known universe.Oh, well, at least our kids aren’t spoiled.
A trip to Toys “R” Us with my girls was never complete without a stop at the coin-operated “junk” machines, placed strategically near the store exit like giant glue traps in the path of fleeing parents.My middle daughter found the claw machines especially tempting, ignoring my warnings that the Mafia owns them all and uses the money to promote the substandard-counterfeit stuffed animal industry. Somehow, though, after blowing her personal savings, and whatever was hiding in my billfold lint, she always managed to “win” some mutant plush abomination. We’re hoping that if we keep digging through her winnings, we’ll be able to find the floor of her bedroom (and a couple of missing pets) again someday.
The passing of Toys “R” Us really is the end of an era. From the millions of in-store tantrums (thrown mostly by parents) to the excitement over countless boxes of sole-destroying Lego sets, there may never be another place like it. I guess deep inside, all of us are Toys “R” Us kids, and if we’re really honest, we’ll be sorry it’s gone, especially when someone mentions going to Disney World.