I’ll be straight with ya here - I’ve only just finally processed the news that Toys R Us have filed for bankruptcy in the US. The once-giant megastore, the King Dick of toy shops, has finally publicly admitted that it’s actually having quite a hard time of it, as it happens. Things aren’t going so well, thanks for asking.
In fact, it’s hit rock-bottom - the bottom of bottoms, for it has done the thing that you do when you have nowhere else to go. Now, this isn’t necessarily the end, and they’ve assured us that they’ll keep all their stores open, particularly, and thankfully, in the UK. But yo, people don’t just go bankrupt and then carry on as normal - it’s usually the final death knell of a company, let’s not sugar-coat it. Retailers don’t often swim back upstream - Toys R Us is not a salmon. Or if it is, it’s the one that gets swallowed by the giant online bear, waiting just around the corner.
Whichever way it’ll go (downhill, so very fast downhill), I’m of the steadfast opinion that this is a heinous travesty. I spent a number of my formative years inside a Toys R Us, running on absolute turbo fuel every time I stepped foot in one, screeching about like a giant wasp with a burning toothpick up its bum. Now I think about it, it was probably quite detrimental to my adolescent health.
Either way, I have a deep-set, heavily ingrained set of memories of the place, of that most wonderful and sprawling acropolis of kid-baiting plastic. Etched into my psyche is a swirling technicolour fever dream of Transformers, Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, all screaming at me, beckoning me, baiting me to submit.
And submit, oh gosh, I did. Of course, being a child, there’s not much you can do if you want - sorry, need - a toy, other than beg your parents for it, so that’s what I would do every single time. Step miniature-trainered-foot inside the hallowed halls, and sorry Mum and Dad, I’m tugging on your jeans, sprouting misplaced and desperate pleas like “I’ll be good” and “Is it cheap?” and “If you don’t buy me this I will 100% grow up a failure”.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, particularly when I begged for one of those got-daym amazing mini Mercedes-Benz pedal cars - that was taking it a bit far, I’ll admit it. Stick with the single G.I. Joe action figure, I think. 12 quid over a grand. Hedge your bets.
But let’s take it back a couple of hours, for before I was even in the blessed factory, I was being whipped into a dangerous delirium by their marketing team. THAT advert, golly. It’s hard to think about Toys R Us even now, without the words: “It’s a magical place, we’re on our way there, with toys in a million, all under one roof!” bouncing about within the confines of my now-adult skull, the dents in bone still left over from the same event occurring in my childhood cranium ad finitum.
But the swell inside my infant heart triggered by the advert was nothing compared to the simultaneous release of every possible hormone that bombastically occurred as I crashed through the shop doors like a heavily-materialistic Bambi on ice. Oh no.
First in, it was straight to the action figure section, which was ridiculous and vast, like the “Guns, lots of guns” bit in The Matrix. It felt like endless rows and shelves of mind-altering, pant-exploding delights were zooming past me at breakneck speed. Or at least vice versa.
I can easily divide my early childhood up into different sets of action figures - each ‘era’, if you will, standing out as extremely important in my development. These are the memories that I will access when I am grey, old and plugged into some VR device in a white room somewhere - desperate to relive past flourishes.
These distinct slices of young life are divided into as follows: Transformers, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Power Rangers, G.I. Joe, Mighty Max, Aliens (as in, from the movies) and Military Muscle Men. Much like how during my teenage years I would spend hours in HMV aimlessly picking up DVDs and reading the backs, so too did I in Toys R Us, only with cardboard-packaged plastic figurines. I do this with absolutely nothing nowadays. What a shame.
But Toys R Us was more than just row upon row of action figures - this was a sprawling labyrinth of delight - there was a treasure trove of other fancies just waiting to be touched by my grubby, Skittle-sticky fingers.
For example, I still remember when they released the first PlayStation, and although I never owned one, I still absolutely rinsed it in the shop. I remember the games being very near to the entrance, so in an IKEA-type fashion I was happily directed straight to the biggest money-grab on offer in the store. My parents never gave in, but to be honest, I was fine playing on it in the shop - it suited my ridiculously fleeting attention span quite nicely, thanks. Onto the next one.
After the PlayStations and then the action figures, you had no choice but to pay a visit to the motherfucking bike section. Ho-wee, what an absolute hallway of ecstasy. Not only did (and does) the smell of rubber tyres send me into a heady nasal frenzy; being actually allowed to ride the bikes around the shop was like nothing else I had ever experienced. Sometimes, I would expertly pretend to be interested in buying a bike, just so I could have a bash on a sick BMX for a bit. “We’ll come back tomorrow, I think” we’d say. Suckers! I just razzed that Diamondback about for free!*
But that was precisely ‘the thing’ about Toys R Us: you didn’t need to buy anything in there, because the experience was enough. Just being lucky enough to count yourself inside the esteemed four walls of that dream laboratory was wildly sufficient. The nearby toy megastore, Children’s World, had slides at the front, which was great, yes, but Toys R Us didn’t need that - it had something else. Something I could never quite put my finger on. Not that I cared, of course, I was a stupid child, and I was happy just picking things up and then putting them down again.
About five years ago, I went in a Toys R Us for the first time since being a little weiner, because my friend was buying something for his nephew, and let me tell you, the place has lost none of its wonder. I was pulled violently, screeching, back to my childhood, and I knew exactly where to go, what to do, how to act. It all came back immediately, and I suddenly found myself back in that action figure aisle, running my creepy fingers across the cardboard, extremely tempted to actually buy something. Anything. LET ME RIDE ON THE BIKES.
Don’t let this place die - the fact that fidget spinners are an actual thing shows that physical toys are not obsolete. Fight that digital tank for just a while longer and go and pick up a Terminator action figure. Grab a Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle. Fiddle about with a Transformer. Even if you don’t buy one, at least pick it up and put it back down again, then just buy some sweets on the way out.
Helps if you’ve got kids, of course - because buying toys as an adult is weird, but at least chuck your ravenous children in there. They’ll love it. No amount of hi-def graphics, VR or whatever other ‘thing’ that the kids are doing now, will ever hold a candle to a trip to Toys R Us. It genuinely was, and still is, a ‘magical place’.
All we need to be is ‘on our way there’.
Because there’s ‘toys in a million’.
And thankfully, they’re ‘all under one roof’.
It’s called ‘Toys R-’ Christ this is getting painful, you get the idea.
*I hope this had nothing to do with the company going bankrupt.