I’ve been working for my present employer for twenty four years now, but prior to that I had a pretty varied work history. I unloaded trucks for a landscaping company, spent a lot of nights bagging groceries, and spent about a month each at Caldor and Ames, large regional department store chains that fell victim to the Wal Mart juggernaut in the late 90’s.
The last non-medical entry on that long discarded resume was some time spent at Kids R Us, the clothing arm of one of the most magical places in the world.
Toys R Us was more than just the store your parents took you to redeem your birthday and Christmas gift cards. It was enormous, a vast building holding more cool stuff than a young child had ever seen in one place before. More than that, it had different stuff, toys that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Not just three or four aisles of what some grown up thought was going to be the most popular, this was an entire store, entire rows dedicated to Transformers or GI Joe. This was where you came to find the lesser known character action figures, the vehicles and play sets that would take up too much shelf space anywhere else. This is where you got the toys and games that your friends didn’t have yet.
It was those types of toys that I shopped for this week, the ones not available at Target or Wal Mart. It was a bittersweet trip, everything in the store 10-30% off after the company announced on March 15th that they were going out of business, all stores scheduled to close. What I had intended to be a short trip instead turning into several hours and more money spent than I can reasonably defend. An expensive walk down memory lane and hopes that come Christmas time my daughter still likes the same things that she does now.
I’ve come to terms with the idea that my grandchildren will never hold a book in their hands, never walk over to a shelf to search for a movie to watch or music to listen to, never turn the pages of a photo album to reminisce about a particular day or vacation. Will they also never walk into an actual store? Never browse the aisles, nothing particular in mind, waiting for something to catch their attention?
That seems a shame. Some of my favorite books I picked up based on the cover, some of my favorite albums bought on a whim. As I wandered around Toys R Us I filled my cart with things that I didn’t remember seeing anywhere else and I have a feeling those are going to be the ones that my daughter likes the most. Of the things that I’m only pretending are actually for her, these will be my new favorites.
Book and record stores have been disappearing for a while now, joining video rental places and Fotomat film kiosks as nostalgic reminders of a time when people actually had to leave their house for stuff. Somehow I just didn’t think that toy stores would ever join them.