A Chicago dad says goodbye to Toys”R”Us

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 6-year-old daughter Viva, none of whom want to grow up.

“I don’t wanna grow up/I’m a Toys”R”Us Kid/There’s a million toys at Toys”R”Us/That I can play with” … or rather, there were. Soon there will just be 1,600 TRU buildings in 38 countries sitting empty, becoming Halloween pop-up stores in October or, one can assume, being turned into mattress stores because you can never have enough mattress stores.

Why did this happen? To some degree you can blame Amazon, Walmart, kids playing on iPads instead of on GI Joe aircraft carriers, and Toys”R”Us itself for having high prices and poor inventory control. But you can also blame Mitt Romney. Toys”R”Us was purchased by private equity firms years ago: KKR, Vornado and Romney’s Bain. Bain had already murdered KB Toys by purchasing it, forcing the debt-laden company to borrow more money to pay a dividend to investors, then liquidating it. Toys”R”US was also saddled with debt from the leveraged buyout, although it has filed bankruptcy, so there’ll be no dividend, but it looks like there will be a liquidation. A liquidation, 800 stores worth of American workers laid off, and dumpsters full of mascot giraffe heads all across his land.

Sure, TRU is a big box store that hawks plastic commercial toys to kids. I’m sure it makes us dumber and funnels money out of the local economy to corporate overlords. It also gave us a lifetime of great memories. I recall sitting in front of WFLD in the ‘70s and ‘80s hearing commercials that ended in pitches for appearances of costumed characters at local TRU locations: “Kids, stop by the Toys”R”Us in Joliet this weekend to meet Spider-Man, Darth Vader and Geoffrey the Giraffe!” I never went to one of these appearances but they sounded fascinating. (In retrospect, I’ll bet those costumes were pretty jank. I’m picturing a Spider-Man mask with a hole so he could smoke cigarettes.)  

Toys”R”Us is where my parents took my sister and I after a day of shopping if we were good. (They were open way later than the mall, after all!) It’s where we would try to coax our dad into getting us new Atari games (usually successfully). It’s where my mom would take me over and over until I could finally find a Darth Vader figure. (Luke got tired of fighting Lobot and the same one Stormtrooper over and over again.) It’s where we raced to get Cabbage Patch Dolls after calling daily to see if any had arrived during that Reagan-era craze. It’s where I got the die-cast Voltron figure for my birthday that cost a small fortune in ‘80s dollars. It’s where an employee once brought out a box of Return of the Jedi figures which a mob of kids and I set upon like the Bacchae on Orpheus, grabbing the just-released figures right off the floor. It’s New York flagship store is where my wife and I, on a date, watched as a lifesize giant T. rex frightened shoppers and an indoor ferris wheel spun for years. The store’s Babies”R”Us version is where we registered for our baby shower … and it’s where we now take our 6-year-old daughter Viva after a day of shopping when she is good.

Viva and I had a blast at a Toys”R”Us this weekend. We must have gone down every aisle, and when she saw the display for the “Descendents” dolls she looked like she’d been hit by lightning. I looked around and soaked up the garish colors and the whimsical signage, the toys in every direction. Viva is bummed out that it looks like TRU is going away forever, and I wanted to spend more time there with her. My friend Jim’s son came home from preschool having had a grim conversation about TRU with his friends and begging to hit TRU before it disappears. Maybe this will closing will drive us to better, local stores? Maybe this will cause everyone to stumble into the sunlight and blink off their consumerist haze? Most likely, though, it just sucks.

So, if you get a chance, make one last trip to one of Chicagoland’s many stores, not to patronize a zombie business, but to walk down memory lane and recall all the Autobots, Teddy Ruxpins and Castles Greyskull you once received, and to let your kid feel the rush of toy madness in their blood one last time. To refuse one last time to grow up, ‘cuz if you did, you wouldn’t be a Toys”R”Us kid.

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