When news first broke that Toys 'R' Us will be closing or selling all of its U.S. stores, I wasn't surprised. The chain has been going downhill for years, for a number of reasons, but it's hardly alone in its predicament. It's not like this is a particularly lucrative time for specialized stores. RIP Borders, Waldenbooks, KB Toys, Linens N Things, CompUSA, Sam Goody, Blockbuster Video, and so many more.
Still, even if you haven't stepped inside a Toys 'R' Us since you were a kid, this no doubt hits close to home. For so many people my age, Toys R Us has become a beacon of nostalgia rather than an actual place to shop (which might be a big factor in its demise). It's where we ran wild as kids in the '70s and '80s (and '90s), and it's where so many of us fell in love with toys again and again — even as adults.
The chain has been around since 1948, but the '70s and '80s were definitely its heyday. We all have memories that involve the store in some way — you know you do — and it will be missed. The shopping landscape in America will be a somewhat bleaker place without the vibrant colors of Toys 'R' Us to light the way.
Here are six things about TRU that we'll miss.
Geoffrey the Giraffe
Come on. Was there ever a weirder, more beloved brand mascot? I'm not sure who thought a giraffe would be good at selling toys, but that person was obviously a marketing genius. And when it came to toy store mascots, Geoffrey was vastly superior to the Kiddie City kangaroo. In recent years, Geoffrey has taken a back seat in the chain's marketing, but during the '70s, he had a whole family! Where are Gigi, Geoffrey Jr., and Baby Gee today? Won't someone think of the children?
"I don't wanna grow up, I'm a Toys 'R' Us kid." Do I really need to continue? It was a Saturday morning anthem for toy-obsessed kids that we can still sing today.
In-store character meet-and-greets
During the '70s and '80s, Geoffrey (and sometimes the rest of his family) made in-store appearances to promote special sales. Or just because. Since he's a giraffe, the costume was hilariously top heavy, and the poor employee stuck inside had to amble awkwardly down the aisles and bend over to greet little shoppers. But these events weren't limited to playful giraffes. Superheroes, Ninja Turtles, Darth Vader, LEGO characters. They all made appearances for photo ops and memories.
LEGO building events
Toys 'R' Us might not have been the cheapest place to indulge your LEGO addiction, but in recent years they sponsored some really cool FREE minibuild events. Show up, wait your turn, grab the pieces, and put together your very own Princess Leia, Batmobile, or kayak!
Toys 'R' Us was also one of the few stores crazy enough, er, willing to sponsor midnight releases of hot properties that people would literally trample one another to buy. Star Wars and Hasbro led the pack with the Force Friday events, but Toys 'R' Us also had midnight madness events for Transformers. These coordinated national release parties were often more than just extended store hours. They were an excuse for fans to come together, meet one another, cosplay, and sometimes even meet celebrities. Oh yeah, and fight for exclusives. But seriously, if you were a Star Wars fan in 1999, you were probably camped out in front of TRU to be one of the first to snag that Ki-Adi-Mundi figure.
Familiarity and comfort
Many Toys 'R' Us locations have occupied the same space since they first opened. That means the store you walk into today is very likely the exact same store you walked into as a kid. Same walls, same ceiling, same floor, same memories. The toys might be different, but the space is the same.
When I see people lament the loss of Toys 'R' Us, I don't see a lament for corporate America. I don't see people placing undue significance on little hunks of plastic. I don't see blind lemmings to a capitalist economy bent on feeding our materialistic desires.
I see people who have fond memories of their childhoods and are sad to see yet another physical reminder of those times go by the wayside. When I walk into a Toys 'R' Us today, I can squint and see myself, 30 years younger and full of excitement, running through the aisles like a toy-crazed lunatic.
That's magical. That's irreplaceable. And that's what will be missed.
Once a Toys 'R' Us kid, always a Toys 'R' Us kid.