At Toys “R” Us, emotions always seemed to run high.
Wailing tantrums were pitched in the aisles between the Barbies and the Beanie Babies. Allowances were giddily relinquished for Super Soaker water guns. Frantic parents scrambled to snag Tickle Me Elmos.
Patrons were taken by surprise when the chain said it would close or sell all of its American stores.
On Thursday, they eulogized Toys “R” Us as a temple to playtime and worried that toy shopping would now be quietly carried out on a laptop, alone.
Some, waiting in line for stores to open, said they had visited the chain ahead of every holiday season for decades. Many arrived bearing gift cards. One woman got a head start on Christmas shopping, spending $400.
A multigenerational destination
Mary Nicholas of Carthage, Mo., remembered going to the zoo one year when her daughter, Emma, was around 4 years old. At one point, Emma pointed to a giraffe and said, “Look, Mama, it’s Geoffrey” — the chain’s gangly cartoon mascot.
“So, yeah, it’s kind of a punch in the gut for us to see how much online shopping has affected things,” Ms. Nicholas said, lamenting how the digital age is, as she put it, swallowing us whole.
“I’m going to miss the magic,” she said. “I want to cry right now because we had so much fun there.”
The fun of seeing toys in person
Marilyn Tandy lives in a rural part of Jasper County, Mo., and has shopped for at least two generations at the Toys “R” Us store in Joplin.
Her great-granddaughter Brynleigh, 2, enjoys waddling through the aisles and admiring toys. Brynleigh’s mother, Madison Shores, used to do the same.
“That’s the fun of it, taking them and letting them see everything they like,” Ms. Tandy said. “It’s much easier to do that in a store than on a computer.”
A disappearing relic
“I grew up somewhere with lots of toy stores, so it’s going to be weird that there are none left. I’m just trying to show my little guy what it’s like while I still can.”
— Ian Ainslie, who wandered the Toys “R” Us in the Rego Park section of Queens with his 5-month-old son, Kiann, strapped to his chest.
A moment of fame
A professional wrestler who performs under the name Zack Ryder wrote on Twitter about his memories of Toys “R” Us and the WrestleMania XX action figures it sold.
A mecca for collectors
Toys “R” Us is a go-to source for affordable toy cars, said Mitch Pose, who owns 6,000 of them.
On Thursday, at the store in Maplewood, Minn., he bought a blue Cadillac DeVille model from the Matchbox brand.
The chain, which he visits once a month, also carries GreenLight and Johnny Lightning brands of collectibles, which Mr. Pose said were in short supply at Walmart and Target stores.
“I’m bummed about it,” he said of the Toys “R” Us closings. “This is hard to find.”
Around noon, the store had a sign on its front door that read, “We are not closing.”
By 1:30 p.m., the sign was gone.
The pleasure of waiting
Gillian Dosse of Roseville, Minn., loved Toys “R” Us as a child, and is especially nostalgic about reading the holiday catalogs. She would take a marker to them and circle the toys she wanted. It’s a tradition she taught her 6-year-old son, Liam.
“It was like looking back through a time machine,” she said. “It brings back the simplicity of picking out what you would like and hoping to see it under the tree instead of getting that, at one click of a button, delivered to your doorstep.”
Not necessarily the first choice
“We’re Amazon shoppers for better or worse. I guess we’re part of the problem.”
Scott Bleicher and a colleague needed props for a photo shoot. They ended up at the Rego Park Toys “R” Us — only after hunting around online first.
A home for tantrums
The child bawling for just one more toy was long a fixture of Toys “R” Us stores. That used to be Joe Lotempio, now a bankruptcy lawyer who can buy Lego sets for himself, as he did on Thursday at the store in Fort Myers, Fla.
“Toys ‘R’ Us is the last of the toy stores,” said Mr. Lotempio, who likes to collect action figures and video games. “It’s a little upsetting.”
The price equation
“Just across the way, the same products are 10, 15, 20 percent cheaper. It’s hard to give them dollars just because of nostalgia.”
Ryan Santos, who took one of his young sons to a Toys “R” Us in Portland, Ore., said from the parking lot, which was also by a Target store.
Reporting was contributed by Christina Capecchi, Ron Feemster, John Hacker, Courtney Sherwood and Zach Wichter.