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A Toys R Us kid

You may not have heard, but Toys R Us is in trouble. Six weeks ago the retail giant filed for bankruptcy, citing slumping sales and tough competition from Target and Walmart. Things look pretty grim for Toys R Us, the nation’s largest toy store, but there may be a sliver of hope. This week Toys R Us announced they had secured more than 3.2 billion in financing and promised a bankruptcy judge in Virginia they’d work together with their creditors in an attempt to stay afloat.

I have to admit, the news of the bankruptcy came as kind of shock to me. Toys R Us was one of those institutions I always expected to endure, simply because there’s no place quite like it. Toys R Us may be pointing a finger at Target and Wal-mart, but it’s easy to see the internet is the real killer.

This is nothing new in our American life these days. For decades, the internet has been quietly bringing down the sorts of things we’ve oft taken for granted like Blockbuster Video and Barnes and Noble. Twenty years ago, both of these retailers were everywhere, and now it’s news when a Blockbuster Video in Alaska is still holding on, despite all odds.

I’m just as guilty here as anyone else. I was an early adopter of Amazon Prime, and I like shopping from home, and reading the review before I pull the trigger on a big purchase.

But it’s not really the same.

As kids, my brother and I would get dropped off at the mall on a semi regular basis. Usually we’d each be given $5 to blow at the arcade, which is where we always headed first. Most of the arcades are closed now, unless they’re in a bar like Up-Down in Des Moines, specifically designed to cater to nostalgic millennials like me.

Five dollars in quarters makes you feel like a million bucks when you’re 10 years old. I wasn’t the video game wizard that my brother was, so while he was challenging teenagers in Street Fighter II, I was usually dead broke and looking for something to do. I’d walk down to Waldenbooks, the mall’s chain bookstore and find a book to read while I waited for mom to come back and get us.

Sitting cross legged on the floor I’d read for hours until it was time to go. My legs would invariably be numb by the time I got up, but if anyone noticed a 10 year old lurching around the aisles they were kind enough not to say anything.  

Different times back then. It’s amazing how much has changed in the last 20 years. Parents today wouldn’t dream about dropping off a nine and 10 year old at the mall for an afternoon, but it was S.O.P. for my mom back in the late ‘80s.

Part of nostalgia is the mad dash to hold on before it’s gone, so last Saturday night I went to Toys R Us for the first time in years. My buddy was turning five, and there’s no better place to go than the biggest toy store in town. It was William’s first time and watching him cruise through the aisles was like a trip down memory lane. We went late at night, and the story was mostly empty a hour before they closed at 10 p.m., just us a couple of Toys R Us employees endlessly restocking toys that had been drug out and abandoned in the aisles by in indifferent children.

William picked a Lightning McQueen set and we brought it up to the counter. As we walked out to the car I promised him that we’d come back soon. And we will, Toys R Us is an underrated national treasure.

When you’re five, shopping online doesn’t have the same thrill as when the electronic doors of Toys R Us whoosh open, revealing a wonderland of toys. If you haven’t been, you should go back and check it out, before it’s too late. I promise it’s way better than Amazon.

Contact David Dolmage

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