Anyone from the Caribbean who has traveled to the US as a kid can probably relay a Toys “R” Us experience. I remember being seven years old and walking into the store for the first time, unable to believe that a toy store of this magnitude existed on the planet. As a Trinidadian, I was accustomed to the smaller toy stores in our malls, or the selection of toy at the local hardware (yes, a hardware that sells toys is very common here). I’d never seen anything at the Toys “R” Us scale; it was almost impossible to fathom until I saw the Cobra Wolf in the GI Joe section, at which point I abandoned my excessive questioning and proceeded to indulge my excitement, which, as you can imagine, was chaos for a seven year old.
I walked out of Toys “R” Us a very content little child. I had a giant box in my hands, one of those amazing vehicles from the GI Joe series that I couldn’t wait to assemble. However, something else was moving to the front of my young mind. One year before, I received my first game console, an Atari 2600; video games were starting to seep into my brain, and the excitement and energy that usually went into unboxing and playing with new toys was slowly being directed to gaming instead.
Fast forward to age eleven, when I received my NES from my uncle, a purchase he made at Toys R Us. The joy of getting my hands on an Atari some five years prior was eclipsed by how I felt when I took that NES out of the box. I played Super Mario Bros. all evening until my hands were raw with pressing the brand new d-pad. At the time, I didn’t care; all it meant was that joysticks were in the past and I would have to get used to the new controller. I spent many years with that system, and it took me a long time to realize that my interest in toys were all but gone, while my love for video games continued to exponentially grow.
Whenever I visited the US as a teen, I would walk into a Toys “R” Us and immediately head to the electronics section (which is exactly what I do when I walk into a Walmart or Target). I completely ignored the toys and ran to see the games behind the glass case, which at the time were displaying the latest and greatest Nintendo had to offer. This became my new toy story experience – games, games and more games.
My friends, who were also riding the video game wave, talked about nothing else. From Double Dragon 2, to Super Mario 3, to Ninja Gaiden, it was all we cared about. We loved those discussions and loved playing and re-playing those games even more. It brought everyone together and continued for years, from the NES to the SNES, then the N64, Playstation, PS2, XBOX and Gamecube.
As the years went by, things began changing with regards to how we bought our games. Toward the end of the XBOX and PS2 era it was not uncommon to walk into Walmart, Target or Best Buy and pick up what we wanted. Amazon and Newegg also started selling games, consoles and PC parts. The reason to step into a Toys “R” Us dwindled as time went by and became a last resort. When I couldn’t find the amiibo exclusives for Samus Returns, Toys “R” Us was where I ended up going to (last). When my friend was looking for the SNES Classic, Toys “R” Us was the “well I guess it could be here” store instead of the “I’m ordering from Toys “R” Us first” store.
The recent announcement of the closure of Toys “R” Us is unsurprising. The nostalgia is there for me but so is my understanding of why they’re no more. As we grew, up our interest certainly shifted, but it was clear that Toys “R” Us had the capability to shift as well. Toys “R” Us had the opportunity to do their own R&D, understand their audience and survey the terrain as people were moving to other sources for the same items that they single handedly had control over in the 80’s. Essentially, Toys “R” Us failed to grow. As a player, I gravitated to competitors that provided a more accessible service. Toys “R” Us may not have moved with the times but their customers and competitors did and now, they’re paying the price of complacency.