‘A Punch in the Gut’: Toys ‘R’ Us Closings Rattle Nostalgic Customers

anastasios pallis


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.”

Inside a Toys “R” Us in New York on Thursday. More than 30,000 American jobs are at risk as the company winds down.CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times
Clarissa More, 6, at the store in Maplewood, Minn., on Thursday. When Clarissa heard that the stores would be closing, she broke down in massive tears, her mother said.CreditJenn Ackerman for The New York Times

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.

You can find, for now, Zack Ryder memorabilia on Toys “R” Us’s website, where a figure costs $9.99. (On Amazon, it cost $8.37.)

Mitch Pose, a 26-year-old car wash manager, collects toys, mostly Matchbox and Hot Wheels brands, in addition to die-cut cars.CreditJenn Ackerman for The New York Times

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.

Gillian Dosse with her son, Liam. “There are hardly any big, great toys stores where a kid can just wander,” Ms. Dosse said.CreditJenn Ackerman for The New York Times

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.”

“Toys ‘R’ Us is nostalgia and a big part of American consumerism,” said Scott Bleicher, left, who was at a store in Queens on Thursday with a colleague, Carlo Mantuano.CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times

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.”

Ryan Santos, 36, with his son, Remy. “It’s great for kids because you can run around and play with stuff.” Mr. Santos said, “but it’s expensive, unfortunately.”CreditThomas Patterson for The New York Times

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.


An earlier version of this article misstated the given name of a customer at the Toys “R” Us store in Fort Myers, Fla. He is Joe Lotempio, not Jo.

Tiffany Hsu is a breaking news reporter on the Business Desk. Before joining The Times in 2017 she covered economic news for The Los Angeles Times and earned an M.B.A. from Columbia University. @tiffkhsu


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