So Long, Toys R Us

Well, the party’s over. This past Friday, all the remaining Toys R Us stores closed, permanently. Rather than rehash all the tired woulda, coulda, shoulda, I’d just like to talk about what was.

Toys R Us, circa 1969

I can thank my grandmother, Ruby Klockau, for getting me addicted to Toys R Us. Way back when I was a little kid, she would often take me out to lunch. We’d usually go to Bishop’s Buffet, then to the local dealerships, and then to Toys R Us, where I got to pick out a model car.

One of the earliest models I remember getting on one of those trips were 1/43 scale Matchbox Models of Yesteryear: a Duesenberg Model J, MG TC and Mercedes 540K. I still have them in a box somewhere. Back then the Toys R Us was model car Valhalla. An entire aisle of model cars: Corgi, Matchbox, Majorette, and the more plebeian Hot Wheels of course. I always preferred Matchbox. Even when I was in first and second grade, I appreciated their detail compared to the more toy-like and cartoonish Hot Wheels. They had another separate aisle full of 1/24 scale model kits too.

MB 928

One of my Matchboxes from childhood. It survived!

Starting in the late ’80s and early ’90s, 1/18 scale models became much more popular, resulting in a separate aisle of the larger models, especially Ertl and Bburago. I bought many of those too. By that time my little sister was taking weekly dance classes, and my mom took her. That left me, my brother and my dad solo for the evening. Many times we’d go to the now-defunct Harold’s on the Rock supper club for fried shrimp. Since the Toys R Us was close by, I usually was able to talk Dad into taking us there after, so I could blow my allowance on toy cars.

caddy

Back then, the stores ran the Toys R Us jingle all day over the Muzak. My dad, God bless him, could only take that song for so long. Naturally, I had to inspect every model in the aisle before deciding, and this combined with the goofy song would test my dad’s patience after, say, ten minutes or so. On a couple of occasions he couldn’t take that song any more, and would say, “Pick one NOW and let’s go!” Fortunately they dropped the piped-in song sometime in the mid 1990s.

And now they’re gone, a victim of debt, poor decisions and online shopping. I’ll miss them.

26 Replies to “So Long, Toys R Us”

  1. -Nate

    I learned about this chain in the 1970’s it was already going over to incredibly cheap Chinese toys so I rarely ever went there apart from buying my Son an Atari 7800 (?) long long ago .

    -Nate

    Reply
  2. stingray65

    Toy stores – another victim of the smart phone addiction. Kids don’t want toys anymore – they want an iPhone with unlimited data plan.

    Reply
    • sabotenfighter

      That’s BS. They said the same thing about video games when I was a kid. Kids still like toys. Lego is bigger than ever, and not just with fully grown children, actual kids still love them. My adopted sisters all love all kinds of goofy crap toys that kids are into (orbeez (SP?) for one), and have loads of dolls and other stuff, in addition to games.

      Reply
      • stingray65

        Video games are considered toys by most – I certainly remember Atari 2600 consoles and games being sold in toy stores. Lego sales were down recently, and much of the growth before that was from sales to adults for the “high tech” sets.

        Reply
        • sabotenfighter

          By that metric, isn’t the smartphone/tablet a toy as well? Most kids are using them for gaming either alone or with friends, and if a teenager, looking at porn, sending dictures/noods to each other.

          Japan is nearly toy store free. Toys R Us used to be kinda common, but overpriced. Other than those though, there are hardly any dedicated toy shops. Big department stores rarely have a toy section. Electronics stores like Bic Camera usually have a toy floor, but that’s the same place they put junky bikes, video games and models. The vidya games take up most of the floor space too. Makes buying kids presents, without coming off as the weird uncle who buys a kid clothes, pretty tough.

          Reply
          • stingray65

            I’m sure many kids and their parents consider the smart phone to be a toy, but one they can call junior home for supper on. The added problem in Japan is there aren’t any kids – they are also closing down maternity wards and schools.

      • DirtRoads

        Hell I’m 60 and I love video games. 🙂

        I remember playing Asteroids when it was just bright lines on a screen, 25 cents a play. So 70s….

        Reply
        • -Nate

          Try Pong @ Caltech University for .10 cents a game .

          It was the first video game I ever saw .

          -Nate

          Reply
    • SixspeedSi

      I believe Toys R Us’s demise was less about children wanting times and more so the company failing to pay down their large amount of debt. This started in 2005, way before Amazon, iPhones, etc…were ever an issue. Sure Kids are glued to phone/tablets more than ever, but Toy Stores still have their place. The writing was on the wall for Toys R Us though.

      Reply
  3. -Nate

    It’s been my experience that kids love all manner of odd and old fashioned toys _IF_ they’re given them .

    My Son was always amazed by the different toys I bought him when he was growing up, he still has quite a few of them .

    -Nate

    Reply
  4. Mark D. Stroyer

    Matchbox being better is one of those anecdotes that I mentally reject, because Matchbox has in my life being firmly tiered below Hot Wheels, cheaper and shoddier construction and just to lift never had the same weight. Of course the quality on all of it has slid even further since then. I’m just glad my kids have my box of cars to appreciate instead of just new junk.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth

      English-made Matchbox cars always struck me as being a cut above Hot Wheels… but that was a LONG time ago.

      Reply
      • DirtRoads

        I have an English MG Matchbox I’ve had since I was a wee child. I have a Stingray Corvette (minus one rear wheel) and a VW Bug with a sunroof and a V8 sticking out the FRONT. And a couple others rolling around in a window downstairs.

        Reply
  5. rambo furum

    I also had less interest in the over-the-top Hot Wheels offerings. I’m more interested in the defunct Bishop’s Buffet experience though, to be honest.

    Reply
  6. George Denzinger (geozinger)

    I’m a fair amount older than Tom, so I can still remember when Hot Wheels were the hot toys for boys. Before that I had been a Matchbox collector, which were fairly accurate, if boring, models. The first HW cars weren’t all that outrageous, that came later into the 70’s; but they were definitely “cooler” than the more accurate Matchbox cars. I collected 1/64 scale cars until I was in middle school, by then I thought that was kids stuff. However, when my kids came along, I started again with them and have amassed a 1000+ strong fleet of tiny automobiles… (Which I need to sell, BTW)

    As for TRU, they weren’t near my small Ohio hometown; I don’t think I went to one until I was living in Cleveland. By then I was shopping for toys for my (typically) newborn nieces, nephews and friend’s kids. When shopping for my own kids we usually stuck to the local department stores, like Meijer and WalMart. Only Grampa and Gramma bought stuff at TRU, although there were the occasional items you could only get at TRU like some video games and etc.

    I’d say that TRU is another victim of Amazon and other lower price sellers, not so much kid’s desires for video games. Having coached youth soccer for a number of years, kids still like to play outside, and with other children. Some things never really change…

    Reply
  7. Don Curton

    Never went to one as a child, but my kids were born in the early/mid-90’s. So I spent plenty of time in Babies-r-us and Toys-r-us in the mid-90’s to the late 2000’s. They opened a new store in my hometown about that time and initially it was the place to be for kids. All the coolest toys, the best baby stuff, etc. Clean store, nice location. Within a few years I noticed that the store was always dirty, the shelves in disarray, service non-existent, and check-out a pain. They just didn’t seem to care at all. When we moved to a new city, same thing. Dirty store, no desire to spend more than a few minutes in it. That was about the same time that we started doing 90+% of all our Christmas shopping online, too. I wouldn’t say internet shopping killed them, but that rather it was the safest fallback once it became obvious that they didn’t care about maintaining the stores.

    Went to one about a year ago for the grandchild. My first thought upon entering (without knowing any of the financial difficulties they faced), was why in the hell wasn’t this company bankrupt already?

    Reply
  8. Wunsch

    The Toys R Us name lives on in Canada. Come visit next time you need that particular bit of nostalgia!

    Reply
  9. Glenn Kramer

    It’ll be missed. Took my kids there often, my daughter and I created a continuing saga of the adventures of Goeffrey and Baby G that lasted for years.

    Reply
  10. Compaq Deskpro

    I didn’t go here much as a kid. It’s easier to drag parents to the toy store in the mall or the toy aisle in Walmart than it is to get them to drive to a big box store with nothing in it for them, in a different strip mall, after you’ve already got the grocery shopping done.

    Reply
  11. James

    If memory serves me, it was the Toys R Us jingle alternated with a short children’s song; played on repeat. Drove me nuts!

    Reply
  12. Andy White

    Do a little research and you’ll see it wasn’t the internet or bad management that killed Toys R Us…you can blame Bain Capital and KKR for adding over $3B of debt to their books. But Bain and KKR made money so it’s all good.

    Reply
  13. silentsod

    I have fond memories of wandering the aisles at Toys R Us, occasionally getting a Hot Wheel or Matchbox car. Lusting over the expensive toys I couldn’t have.

    What the heck am I going to bribe my incoming kid with now?!

    Reply
  14. JustPassinThru

    I guess my age is showing. I remember when Toys R Us was a novel concept.

    I remember well. I was living outside Buffalo, NeYark…and snowed in, the Blizzard of 1977. I watched a lot of tevee that week…drank a lot of beer, too. Drinking age in the Vampire State was 18.

    The late-night spots, when ads were cheap, was the giraffe, not even giving his name…”Toys, toys, toys are US!” A new concept – when I was of the toy-store age, there was the Enchanted Toy Store, about the size of a medium record store. Nice building, freestanding…tells you the markup way back when.

    Toys R Us took off, grew big, grew too big, lost their focus and their mojo, and crashed and burned. That’s life – businesses, like animals, like people, have life-cycles. Businesses can be rescusiated but it takes a vision, a will, and consent of the shareholders. It happens but rarely, and often it lasts no longer than the turnaround executive.

    Reply

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