This is the Toys R Us on 12535 SE 82nd Ave in Portland. It's the Toys R Us I grew up with; the one that holds some of my fondest childhood memories. Tonight I'll be going inside for the last time. ToysR Us has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which means every single branch could permanently shut their doors any day.
So you might be wondering how we got here. The most popular assumption is "It was Amazon with the lead pipe in the library," but there's more to it than that. Their collapse is the culmination of over twenty years' worth of bad financial decisions that got worse in 2005 when they needed an investment bailout. Private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Bain Capital (hi Mitt) and Vornado Realty Trust bought the company for $6.6 billion; then seeking consolidation in the toy market, they bought KB Toys and FAO Schwarz and absorbed them into TRU.
One would think picking up the monopoly would be a foolproof move, but all these buyouts left Toys R Us with a ridiculous amount of debt. The gamble was that sales at TRU would rise and make up the difference. No such thing happened; the online marketplace got bigger and bigger and TRU wasn't in a position to compete. They couldn't slash prices; they had bills to pay!
13 years passed and the company never actually paid off the buyout debt; instead they settled for paying off the interest, which of course kept growing (that bill was $400 million by the time they croaked). In late 2017 TRU filed for Chapter 11 and started making plans to restructure the business and close some low-performing outlets. For that move to pay off they needed an additional outside figure to invest in the company or buy it outright. No one was interested, leading to TRU's complete collapse in March of 2018.
So I would argue that, under better circumstances and more competent leadership, it would be fully possible for a toy-based specialty big-box store to survive in today's market. At least, I want to believe that the world is still capable of supporting something like Toys R Us.
For many years now, every time I've driven past the Toys R Us, its giant parking lot has been mostly empty. That wasn't the case now. The lot was jammed with nostalgic parents dragging their kids inside for just one last visit. That was also why I was here. I could remember when the place had colorful wood paneling and a giant neon Geoffrey off to the side, and a big bulky "THE CHILDREN'S BARGAIN TOWN" sign hanging above the entrance here. It wasn't quite exactly the SAME Toys R Us anymore but it was the same building.
And this entryway....I have opinions about this entryway alone. It blocked you off from witnessing the store itself, which only increased your anticipation. The automatic doors would open, the wind would go WHOOSH and the smell of all that merchandise would assault your senses. You were very close now, but the grand reveal was still a few seconds away. When I was half the size I am now it took longer to run from one end of this walkway to the other (like I was gonna walk). The entryway was the drumroll and turning the corner at the end was the cymbal crash.
I can't be certain, but the last time I remember making a serious trip inside Toys R Us was to buy a new copy of Paper Mario in 2002. That was obviously a long time ago but the store layout doesn't seem to have changed since then. I wish I could go back further, though. 2002 was the time of the RZone, which TRU built by eliminating the Cage, aka the big enclosure you were to take all potential expensive purchases to. Where the RZone is today is where the Cage used to be. I wish I could see it again.
Every child of the 90s will wax nostalgic about the paper slip system (I'm expecting a scene to appear in Ready Player One where the guy has to pilot his Delorean through a forest of giant Toys R Us price tickets). To be honest I kinda loathed it as a kid....every other store would let me handle the boxes; why not you, TRU? But I unexpectedly miss it as much as the rest of you. What I REALLY miss is the fact that every available console and game-playing device was displayed under glass, out of their packaging, mint and pristine and lovely. It was like some kind of museum. There was a reason that glass was constantly fogged up with hand and nose prints.
Everyone has a Cage story, and here's mine: I took the slip for Wario Land on Game Boy to the window. The elderly man behind the glass took the slip of paper, ran his shaking fingers through the stacks of games on display, and came back with Wario Land II, which had just come out and was ordinarily $10 more. Can't get those kinds of discounts anymore!
The question is, is Toys R Us still as appealing to kids today as it was to me? Based on everything I observed tonight I would say if it isn't, it's not from lack of effort. If I was a kid now I would still love this place; every inch of it is devoted to a child's every desire, starting with the mountains of candy just inches from the door. That might have something to do with it being close to Easter, but it's still cool.
Every aisle was decorated with gigantic displays, loudly advertising the products on the shelves below. This is how a kid wants a store to look. If a grown-up walked into a Safeway that was decorated like this, their reaction might be "well, that's a bit overkill, don't you think?" Kids, by contrast, like to be catered to with a bullhorn.
Every major property had its own section devoted to it, with all the new models on display like a car showroom. It makes me sad to think kids will never experience this kind of royal treatment again, at least not for a long time. They'll only be able to see toys face-to-face in stores where they're incidental. It's like if Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney XD all disappeared at the same time and children had to migrate back to Saturday Morning again. Hope you like Litton!
The RZone hasn't changed much since Aught-Two (that is, if it's called that anymore). It's the same products-behind-glass setup every other store has. This is the one part of Toys R Us that won't vanish from the Earth, because it's not unique to the store. The game section sure USED to be unique, though.
This amiibo rack looks like every amiibo rack I've ever seen. Just like Target and Wal-Mart, the content is 85% Animal Crossing, with the majority of THAT being the exact same animal over and over. They did have Pit (and he was on sale!) but I already had Pit.
Another thing that hasn't changed about Toys R Us is their blind willingness to stock anything popular even if it's not appropriate for their target audience. There have always been M-rated games in the RZone, violent action flicks in the DVD rack, and I'm guessing they only stopped selling real guns as of last week. The kindergarteners I saw running around this Rick & Morty product showcase would wet their beds for a week if they actually watched the show.
sight in the entire building was this Morty that had been knocked
to the floor, where it now appeared to be whimpering in a fetal
position. It was very in-character. "Oh geez, Rick, I dunno
how to feel about this Toys R Us thing; what's gonna happen to
all the kids, ya know? How are the kids gonna get their
"Kids don't need toys, Morty, they did just fine back in the old days when the majority of their activities included breaking cords of wood and scavenging for squirrel meat. Just ask your mother! *belch*"
So, ah.....now that you're going out of business, someone's gonna have to take these kiosks off your hands.....riiiiight?
I wonder at what point they'd consider it. Most likely when the "Fixtures For Sale" sign goes up. You have to be the first person to catch it, though, and that's entirely dependent on luck. Everyone's gonna want this.
In the Superhero Wars, Marvel is absolutely kicking DC's kiester. The Marvel area is ten times the size of the DC area (which consists of 1/4 of an aisle). Half the DC products are Teen Titans Go-related, and there's actually an Avengers product mistakenly taking up some of the remaining space. I have to wonder how powerful DC could be if they just tried once in a while.
I was surprised at how many products that were there when I was a kid are still there today. They look different, and they don't command the attention they once did, but today's kids must still want these things. Well....good.
What wasn't moving off the shelves was this sinister-looking rabbit. It's Snowball from The Secret Life Of Pets, and they kept his scowl for the plush. Why would a kid want this nightmare lying in wait at the foot of their bed? Even the Easter season wasn't helping it. Toys R Us had plenty of these on scattered shelves all over the store.
Toys R us isn't just a car showroom for toys, it's a car showroom for....cars. There are few items more desirable in the store than a child's own pint-sized motor vehicle. Imagine nothing between your 7-year-old self and the open road. Plus, they're electric, so they're good for the environment. I really doubt Wal-Mart or Target would make space for these things, or at least not the space they deserve.
This was the only product left in the store that still used the slip-of-paper system. That means the Cage must still be around, hiding somewhere. I never found it.
One of the most common statements I heard from people once they found out Toys R Us was closing was "I better go over there and start grabbing Legos." They weren't kidding. There are so many Legos at Toys R Us. SO MANY LEGOS! Enough to piece together every frame of fifteen different White Stripes music videos. That many.
They still have a V-Tech aisle! V-Tech was boss back in the 90s for specializing in stripped-down kid versions of popular electronics. Part of the Toys R Us experience was going down that aisle and messing with the display models of things with names like "Deluxe Junior Whiz Kid 2000 XL." Unlike the video game consoles, they weren't under glass. VTech also made my beloved Video Painter, AKA the Best Christmas Present I Ever Got.
However VTech are not what they used to be; you can't try out any of these devices now, and they're all aimed at VERY young kids. They seem to have surrendered the "kid computer" market to LeapFrog (or actual computers, since every kid now has a tablet).
Believe it or not, that Battery Powered Quad is the ONLY piece of Frozen merchandise I saw in the entire store. I guess that bubble finally popped. Olaf's Frozen Christmas may have been the "Disco Sucks" moment for the franchise. When Frozen 2 finally shows up, will anyone give it a chance?
I hope so, a friend at Disney actually gave me the plot synopsis. I don't know if he was under NDA but I'll leak it anyway because that's the kind of friend I am: In Frozen 2 Elsa's mother turns out to be alive, but she's also a psychotic mass murderer with ice powers twice as strong as Elsa's. As she racks up a body count in Arendelle, Elsa tries to track her down, but when she finds out the identity of the killer, she's not sure how to feel. Meanwhile Anna becomes visibly jealous of Elsa's powers even though she's never shown signs of jealousy or pettiness before and it's completely wrong for her character. She gets so jealous that she makes Olaf rig up a big science experiment designed to give her ice powers, but Elsa shuts down the machine mid-procedure, leaving Anna half-dead. While Anna recuperates in Arendelle Hospital, Elsa and her mother flee for the border. They almost make it but the mother has second thoughts and prepares to finally turn herself in. Then suddenly Anna appears out of nowhere and shoots their mother in the head with a handgun, saying it had to be done. Elsa disowns Anna on the spot and says they will never be friends again. The final shot is Elsa crying in the shadows of Arendelle Castle, more alone than she's ever been, with the majority of her family members confirmed dead, and the one remaining person she trusted in the world, her sister and only friend, responsible. But then she gets to eat dinner with a Mexican kid, so she feels better.
Wow, that's terrible. Who would ever want to watch that?
Now that's some effective advertising. I don't know what a Wubble is but I've been informed it's the Wubble You Can't Put Down! They look to be in a state of total bliss. I need to be that happy! One Wubble, please.
And this is Batman. Just....a giant Batman you can buy and put in your room. He can project his Bat Insignia onto your wall, but other than that, he doesn't have much of a purpose; he's too large to play with.
I'm sorry. It's just....so strange that they made this Batman so huge. What would you do with a Batman so huge? What were they thinking?
I don't get this. Has there ever been a time when someone said "We're ready to go" and didn't mean it literally? Why is everything that has to do with Batman in this store so confusing?
If you've never heard of Disney Junior's Vampirina, that's because the show just started. They wasted no time getting the toys out. I've heard some complaints about this: "How is she a vampire? She doesn't suck blood or bite people; she even plays in the sun without turning to ash." All valid concerns but you could say the same thing about Sesame Street's Count.
HA! There's a Claire's in Toys R Us! I laugh because Claire's ALSO announced it was closing all its locations about the same time that Toys R Us did. Now girls everywhere will have to get their ears pierced by Amazon.
The last photos I took were of the checkout area. Under ordinary circumstances, walking around a toy store taking pictures is a suspicious activity for anyone, but the store was about to close, so I figured plenty of people had been in here snapping pics before me. I guess I thought wrong. See the guy with the beard? He's about to yell "Hey HEY!! You can't do that in here! PUT THAT THING AWAY!!" The last thing I ever did in Toys R Us was get kicked out of Toys R Us.
I truly hope this isn't the end. Maybe some kind soul will purchase the brand and attempt a revival in some fashion. I fear whoever that will be will just resurrect the clunky website and call his job done. Toys R Us isn't supposed to be just an exchange of money for goods and services....it's supposed to be an experience. I don't care if children have survived for millennia without this store...it's not right that they have to go without it again.
But enough sadness. LET'S PARTY!
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