Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

This past Christmas, I walked into Toys ‘R’ Us, knowing damned good and well it would be my last jaunt into what was my childhood Mecca.
You see, I had a gift to procure.  A gift I knew very well I could have purchased online from the comfort of my gym shorts and sunken in spot on the couch.  I knew it could be here within two days for a comparable, if not lower, price.  But still, I drove across town to the last remaining Toys ‘R’ Us in Knoxville (location #2 had closed in recent years).  I knew what it was then – and I’m saddened to see it come to fruition.  However, do we have any right to mourn?  I’m seeing a lot of posts on Social Media mourning the announcement that Toys ‘R’ Us is belly up.  Do we have a right to mourn something we have all had a hand in killing?
But first…Toys ‘R’ Us…I need to say goodbye.
First off, Thank you.  Thank you for making me a dreamer.  Thank you for inspiring me.  I grew up well off for a very brief period of my childhood, but nowhere near one of your stores.  By the time we moved closer, my family had fallen apart and both my mother and father were struggling single parents – their business falling the same way yours is now.
Without you, I’m not sure what or where I would be – who I would be.  It was one thing to KNOW something existed (the Cobra Commander in the hood figure, for example), but to SEE it, much less be able to purchase it?  And it wasn’t just one thing…it was rows and aisles of those things.  I was a G.I. Joe boy.  A Transformers boy.  A Go-Bots boy, too.  Who admits that, right?  I was a He-Man boy and a M.A.S.K. boy.  I would scour the aisles for generic G.I. Joe knock-offs because I liked some “red shirts” in my battle play.  I was a Star Wars kid.  And boy did you have the goods.  You never failed me.  And, no matter what I had, you reminded me that hard work always meant I could have MORE!
I remember walking in one day.  My Brother was a manager, overseeing P&L, and managed to have all the coolest stuff.  I’m sure there was more to that, but for memory’s sake, let’s just say He worked hard for it.  He would take me when I would visit my Mom.  And I saw a poster advertising a “Shopping Spree Sweepstakes”.  That was the first contest I ever wanted to really win.  I dreamed about it Geoffrey!   I would fantasize about filling up a cart, racing down an aisle, and filling up another…and another…and another..until time ran out.  It was purely for me and my friends.  No strategy of going after the high priced stuff first.
The older I got, the less toys were important.  And, you became more symbolic than an actual shopping spot.  Then, I had kids.
There is no joy one feels so elating than being a parent with a little bit of money to spend taking your child into Toys ‘R’ Us.
My daughter was kept from me for quite a few years after my divorce.  When I was finally able to fight through a very corrupt small-town family court system to get time with her again, it was given gradually.  Initially, we had Sundays together.  I would pick her up and have all day to make up for lost time.  You were one of our regular spots.  I would take her to Toys ‘R’ Us and we would dream together.  We would walk down the Lego aisles, the girly aisles, and she would indulge me by walking down the superhero aisles.  She would spend so much time at the motorized cars, begging me to buy one.  My dream quickly became to have a place for us where she could ride one of those (Sadly, she would outgrow them before I would finally be awarded the 50/50 custody I deserved).  Toys ‘R’ Us became a place where my daughter and I would dream together – of the toys we would play with together…of the experiences we would share one day.   The massive walls of board games filled our minds of game nights.  So many of the things.
But, I got remarried and real life set in.  We went less and less.  But I still made a point to shop there, because I believe in the value of “brick & mortars”.  Still, my wife and I have fallen prey to the convenience of shopping online.  Amazon’s One-Click is both a Blessing and a Curse.  It’s just so easy…and with free shipping?  We are both forced extroverted introverts.  I’m pretty sure neither of us would leave the house if we didn’t have to.
I’m sad to see you go.  I will publicly and privately mourn this loss, because it is a significant blow to my childhood.  A symbol has been extinguished.
But I know that we have contributed to this.  We have given in to convenience.  Both of us grad students working full time – those are reasons, not excuses.  And, as KMarts and Sears stores close left and right, and more and more physical stores are threatened every year, I know the dynamic of consumerism in America – and the world – is changing.  Ebay gave way to all this.  And sadly, you are paying the price.  The socially-conscious side of me is devastated about the jobs this will cost…and the opportunities lost.  I am saddened by the notion of moms and dads no longer having a place to stroll through where they can dream with their young ones.
Still, I knew walking into your store in December, that it wasn’t long until you ceased to be.  What was once a bustling, busy store you couldn’t navigate, was now calm and barren.  The shelves that once were filled with variety now had a lot of the same figures and toys.  It’s difficult to compete with the variety available online.  I don’t know the answer.  I’m not sure there is one.  We may just be on the precipice of a paradigm shift, Geoffrey.  Either way, I’m sad to see you go.  I will make it by to say my goodbyes before your doors close for good.  I promise.
Meanwhile, I hope we all take stock of how our actions affect the overall economy.  Amazon may be convenient, but it is yet another monolith, like Wal-Mart, where a few people are getting exponentially wealthy, while the worker bees who make it all happen are struggling with two jobs and government assistance – While physical stores close and jobs are lost.  I’m not saying stop shopping online.  I’m unlikely to.  I think we all need to just be more aware of what we are doing.
Goodbye Toys ‘R’ Us.  Thanks for all the memories.  Thanks for making a sad little boy a dreamer.

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