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Don’t put away the toys just yet: Toys ‘R’ Us gets new owner with plans to open U.S. stores

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Mar 16, 2021, 7:35 PM EDT

Anyone who thinks of themselves as a Toys ‘R’ Us kid (and who doesn’t?) has probably felt the bumps on the wild roller coaster ride that has marked the company’s recent hard financial times. After filing for bankruptcy in 2017 and announcing it would close all its U.S. stores, Toys ‘R’ Us appeared to get new life under new ownership and opened a handful of stores — only to shut down operations again soon thereafter.

Now it looks as though Toys ‘R’ Us could be back on track to open stores once more, this time with a strategy that follows the retail landscape realities of 2021 rather than the megastore glory days of the 1980s. New York-based WHP Global announced via a press release this week that it has acquired a controlling interest in Tru Kids Inc., the Toys ‘R’ Us parent company that appeared to be faltering for good as recently as February.

WHP CEO Yehuda Shmidman suggested in the firm’s statement that people are as eager as ever to buy toys — it’s just a matter of figuring out the best way to connect with them. “Our investment in Toys ‘R’ Us reflects our belief and passion for the brand,” said Shmidman. “We are thrilled to be taking the reins of the world's leading toy brand at a time when the category is up 16% and consumer demand for toys is at an all-time high. This is a natural fit for WHP, as we can leverage our global network and digital platform to help grow Toys ‘R ‘Us and Babies ’R’ Us around the world.'

That’s got to be music to the ears of anyone who fondly reminisces from days spent ogling action figures or misbehaving in the aisles with a pair of NERF blasters destined (we swear!) for the cash registers. But WHP intends to approach the opening of U.S. stores with a different view of where shoppers are these days — and it probably won’t be in a big-box store or at most malls.

“There are so many malls that will no longer be in the future, so we don’t need to be there,” Shmidman said in a CNBC interview. “But we could be in malls that do have traffic. ... So we really have an opportunity not just to capture that experience for toys that people are yearning for, but also capture where [people] want to shop. That will be very interesting post-COVID.”

If all goes as planned, new stores could begin appearing in time for the 2021 holiday shopping season, the report notes. And the Toys ‘R’ Us logo could soon be gracing storefronts in places where it traditionally hasn’t been seen — “pop-ups, airport locations, or mini stores inside other retailers’ shops,” according to CNBC, as well as more conventional flagship anchor stores. Still up in the air, though, is the number of U.S. locations WHP is aiming for.

But for any dedicated Toys ‘R’ Us fan, news that the childhood icon is getting a new lease on life is the news that matters most — even if it comes in a more modern package. Its new owners are certainly optimistic: “We’re in the brand business, and Toys 'R' Us is the single most credible, trusted, and beloved toy brand in the world,” Shmidman told CNBC. “We’re coming off a year where toys are just on fire. ... And for Toys 'R' Us, the U.S. is really a blank canvas.”