We’ve been covering the implosion of Toys R Us since the news broke a few months ago that US operations were being shuttered completely and all of its retail locations were going to close. It’s sadly the last gasp of the store that shaped the childhood of a whole lot of Bothans. While plenty of us (myself included), had issues with their pricing and service, it’s undeniable the impact it had on toys in general, and we should all be sad to see them go. It all ends today, June 29th, when all of the remaining US stores close up shop.
Anyone my age, who grew up in the era of Nickelodeon, remembers the Toy-Run that was advertised on the network. We all had our strategies of what we would do (for me, it was GI Joe and Video Games)… it was basically the kids version of planning for lottery a lottery win that absolutely would never come.
But more than being sad… I’m actually pretty angry about it closing. I’m sad because 30,000 workers are out of a job. A lot of them had spent decades at the store and loved it… worse, a lot of them had weathered bonehead management in the past when TRU looked close to imploding. More than that, the (insert your own expletive here… I’m going with slovenly douchecanoes) management that saw this happen are getting bonuses paid out, but the workers that actually did the real work are not getting anything. No severance… nothing. Just a middle finger and a trip to unemployment.
This will be an opinion-y rant, but this is because of how messed up our economic system in America has been for the past couple of decades. The death of TRU wasn’t exactly self-inflicted; to be clear, alienating customers with pricing and preying on people who didn’t know better was them, but what actually did them in wasn’t how they ran their stores.
Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t Amazon that stuck the knife in there, but companies like Walmart and Target that took it too them first back in the 90s… not with toys, but children’s goods like diapers and formula. Toys R Us wasn’t the “ever day” store people would visit for toys and goods like that, but the special place that people would visit for birthdays and Christmas. They likely never recovered from that… I know the store in my hometown closed because of that, and TRU went from the place I went to look at LEGO every week to the place I had to drive an hour and a half to get something special.
Their demise happened because the execs back in the 2000s, after that crisis, took a “buyout” to take the company private. The Vulture Capital firms that bought them loaded them up with debt, which forced the company to back-burner and cancel plans to renovate and modernize stores, focus on internet sales as it was starting to boom. In short, companies like Bain Capital made out like bandits, broke it all, and doomed Toys R Us. They’ve done it to other companies as well… Sports Authority a couple of years, KB Toys a decade ago, and plenty of others between them (including things like DiC entertainment – creators of Inspector Gadget, and iHeartRadio). It’s a sadly common story.
We’re yet to see the shock waves from the Toys R Us demise to play out with toys, but I bet things will look a lot different in the assortment of LEGO and similar toys next year. Walmart, Target, Amazon, and places like that will flourish. Hopefully, in some places, it gives an opportunity for smaller shops to take some of the space. A shop in my area I’ve started to frequent for some of the things I used to get at Toys R Us, Toy Maven, has been our go-to for gifts lately (the untold expensive of having kids is all the birthday parties they get invited to). They won’t get the exclusive focus that Toys R Us got with its size, but they have the same magic of walking around in a toy store, looking at things, that TRU did deliver.