The news of Toys R Us’ imminent liquidation did not cause many pangs of nostalgia for me. It always had the feel of an impersonal, unwelcoming warehouse. There was never much pretense of eye-catching displays or lovingly chosen featured items—just endless, interchangeable aisles patrolled by surly clerks stocking countless shelves, the toys stripped of any magic by the insufficient glow of the bare fluorescent bulbs far above. To me, the underlying message of the place seemed to be: Just buy your toys and get the fuck out.
The real mercantile tragedy here (beyond the loss of jobs) is that the prior success of Toys R Us killed off many of the local toy stores that used to offer mystique and charm, if fewer choices. Once Toys R Us finally closes down all its locations—bequeathing our communities with yet more big buildings no one wants to lease—we’ll just move our toy shopping down the road to Target and Walmart, and hardly be able to tell the difference. Or we’ll just take it easy like everyone else and let Amazon handle everything. Maybe the promise of drone delivery will make it more exciting for us.
My 12-year-old son barely blinked when I broke the news to him. Although he had grown up shopping at Toys R Us, he is also a child of apps and iPads and YouTube, and that’s where he learns of new objects of interest. In fact, between the two of us, I probably felt more of a loss, though it has more to do with the impending disappearance of his childhood. For the previous decade, I always knew I could make him happy by setting him loose in the catacombs of Toys R Us with the mission of choosing one item for purchase.
Together, we’ve gone through waves of interests over the years as he fixated on particular toys: Playmobil and Imaginext play sets with hundreds of small pieces soon to be lost, flammable costumes (military, police, knights) barely sewn together, Nerf guns of ever larger proportions, tens of thousands of plastic soldiers and accompanying vehicles, miniature skateboards for your fingers (why?), robots of varying degrees of intelligence, RC cars and helicopters doomed to self-destruct within minutes of launch. Thankfully, he’s never shown much interest in the allmighty brands like Pokémon (abandoned after a few months of furiously chasing “rare” cards), Star Wars (just a few weeks of fascination, after which I was stuck with a four-foot talking storm trooper), or Hot Wheels (okay, that was me—I just couldn’t get him to play with them).
Now he plays Roblox and listens to YouTube videos on his Beats. In the long term, I’m saving money and no longer have to worry about tripping over plastic crap on the living room floor. In the short term, it’s more difficult to bond over his latest avatar outfit.
So I took a final visit to Toys R Us to relive those memories of being passionately begged to spend more than we should on things of momentary value. It was honestly difficult to tell there’s much of a difference about the place—it’s still simultaneously too empty and overfull, and ultimately not quite as colorful or endearing as a toy store should be. Here’s a last look around: