The world still needs toy stores.
When I saw the recent news that Toys R Us had gone into bankruptcy, I was filled with great sadness thinking stores might shutter entirely. I doubt that will happen…retail might be hurting but it’s still important. And toy stores are actually more important.
Growing up I had three options for toy stores: KB Toys, Children’s Palace and Toys R Us.
The big three for me
KB Toys was the store found in malls and the store I visited most frequently. It was small and cramped but to this day I can probably draw you a diagram of how the store was organized. Which aisles had the GI Joes, where the board games were and so on. But as malls died, so did KB Toys.
Children’s Palace was a big retail store but didn’t carry the weight of Toys R US. I only have one vivid memory from Children’s Palace, and that was when a cashier gave me a Jem and Holograms cassette tape (not sure why). Other than that, the only thing of note about Children’s Palace is the outside facade looked like a castle, which was pretty cool. Facades are definitely lost art.
Then there was Toys R Us. The king. The big daddy. Toy mecca. Going to TRU was a treat and something that only happened a few times a year when I was little, usually around birthdays and Christmas.
Going into Toys R Us was awe-inspiring. Everything you wanted was there. Action figures, dolls, cars, video games, board games, bikes, remote control cars…I mean, it was the toy store. It was the physical manifestation of your dreams. You could touch toys, play with toys, look at the boxes…everything. It was everything to a child.
And if toy stores are at risk as becoming a memory, we’re only robbing the children. Yes, I went there.
Think about the children
The physical interaction and awesomeness of a toy store to a child is immeasurable. I remember it fondly and I see that emotion in my own child when we visit Toys R Us. I’ve even made it a point to go there pretty often with her, just in case the stores become even fewer and farther between by the time she’s grown up.
Toys are meant to be touch and played with…that’s the point. So being able to see them, touch them, pose them and inspect them in-person cannot be understated. It’s easy to show a child a picture of something cool and they want it…but it’s another thing to let them play with it. Toy stores allow children to try before you buy.
Online retail like Amazon is great for common goods that don’t require a lot of inspection, particularly for adults that have a life of experience to compare it against. Children do not have that depth of knowledge. Everything is new to them and seeing is truly believing. It’s like having someone learn to drive with a video game simulation. Yes, they’d get the basics and would learn but nothing compares to being in a car, in the real world, against the elements. It’s just different. Same thing for toys. I watch my kid pick up a boxed toy and look at every picture, read every word. That toy box is their bible for that moment.
We live in an increasingly digital world and while I’ve seen the benefit of that with my kid, physical play is far more important. And as I’ve seen with my own 5-year-old, she prefers playing with real toys. Sure, she plays a few games on the iPad but if you asked her if she’d rather play a tablet game or with a doll house, she’d pick the doll house.
Toy stores need to stick around to fill the assumption gap that people have. I’ve never been the Grand Canyon. I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of it throughout my life, I know what it looks like. I know it’s beautiful but nothing I’ve seen will compare to going there.
Seeing a catalog of toys online is fun, sure, but I’d rather wander around Toys R Us for an hour checking things out…and I know my kid would too. The catalog is the hunt list. The toy store is the frontier, and we must hunt. Online ordering is a wonderful convenience but just can’t replace a real-world experience. Amazon should be the back-up to your toy shopping, especially when you’re dragging your kids along.
Most people probably think toy stores are for parents and adults but they’re not. They never were. Toy stores are for kids. They’re real life toy catalog that kids can walk through…and then run to their parents and tell them what they want for Christmas. Economics, politics and business are grown-up problems, and I hate seeing when those problems impact children – especially my children. I realize this is somewhat of a first-world problem but I’d hate to see a world where toy stores are just a memory.
You know that scene from Big when Tom Hanks goes into FAO Schwartz? Yeah…that’s how a big toy store like Toys R Us feels to a kid. Hell, even I get overwhelmed going in there.
Every year there are days where we “save” comic book stores and record shops. I’d rather not have a “save the toy stores” day but it looks like we might get there sooner than later.
Do yourself a favor…find a toy store in your region, a Toys R Us, if possible. Don’t go there with any more of a purpose than to just walk around and look. Remember the toys you love. Check out that new toy you don’t quite get. Think about what Little You would have wanted if they were around today. If you have a child, take them…take them often.
If you can walk around a toy store and tell me there’s not magic there, then you’re a robot.
Oh…and don’t forget to buy something. We’re trying to save these things, remember?