Yesterday, after it was announced that Toys “R” Us would be closing and liquidating all of its stores, thousands of people took to social media to begin mourning the loss of the big-box retailer. All day long, my feed was inundated with people sharing fond memories of buying their first toy or game there, and lamenting that their own kids would never know that feeling.
Here was my response to that:
I don’t want to seem heartless. I do feel bad for the tens of thousands of workers who have been left without jobs, albeit not great ones (The average pay was about $8.03, which is less than a Wal-Mart cashier). When you work at a place like that, you usually live check to check, and a lot of people just had the rug pulled from underneath them, and now have no idea how they’re going to make rent or buy food.
But I didn’t hear a lot of that yesterday. Instead, I saw salutations to the company, and not the people. People recalling their first experience buying a video game or that toy they just had to have, as if that was a feat that couldn’t be accomplished literally everywhere on earth back then. People cursing the names of Wal-Mart and Amazon for stealing their childhoods. People creating memorabilia for a goddamned corporate mascot.
Have we all gone insane? Do you not realize that Geoffrey is a marketing tool, and that those were commercials? Have we all forgotten that Toys “R” Us is just a faceless corporation, the exact type of company we all hate?
Toys “R” Us, like the Wal-Marts and Amazons that have allegedly killed it, was known as a “category killer”. Its efficiency and draconian cost cutting measures drove smaller toy stores and general retailers out of the toy market, then, when all competition dried up, they jacked up the prices on all of their stuff. I only recall going into a Toys “R” Us when there was literally no other options available, only to have Geoffrey gouge me with his hoof every time.
Their aggressive market penetration killed off a lot of great stores. For all of you out there with your nostalgia glasses on: do you remember this?
That scene was shot in FAO Schwarz, a truly amazing toy store. Sure, the prices were outrageous, but walking into FAO Schwartz was a magical experience, so much so that other movies built entire plots based on it. It was like walking into a giant playhouse, where everything could be played with and experienced. Characters roamed the store, delighting the young and the young at heart. The NYC location was a historic landmark that added a bit of whimsy to the city that never sleeps for over 154 years – and 3 years ago, Toys “R” Us closed it down 2 years before the lease ran out as a cost cutting measure- while still marketing the brand in its own stores.
How many childhoods did that ruin?
It’s not like those cost-cutting measures went into making the stores cooler, or giving more money to the people who worked there. Walking into a Toys “R” Us was a lot like walking into a Home Depot with Lego blocks. The store near me was frequently understaffed, and the associates weren’t knowledgeable about where the merchandise was. It was perfectly understandable, since as I mentioned, workers there don’t get paid a whole lot, even compared to other retail workers. Everyone looked overworked and tired, while the folks in the corporate offices raked in whatever profit there was to be had.
Toys “R” Us is part of the same incorporeal corporate greed machine that spawned Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Amazon, and every other company we all complain about, that abuse their low-level workers in the name of cutting costs, all the while patting themselves in the wallet with huge bonus checks. When they choked the life out of every other toy company in the world, and put smaller companies out of business, no one cared, because Lionel Kiddie City didn’t have a catchy jingle.
Now, bigger big-box chains have out priced and out-valued them the same way, and they were unable to pivot or make adjustments to survive. And when they declared bankruptcy, the CEO got penalized for his failure to turn a profit and inability to adjust to changing times with a huge bonus check.
When we think back on the giant toy company that tricked you into buying a trinket or bauble you played with for a few months then stuck in the back of a closet, everyone forgets about the haggard, overworked cashiers making barely enough to feed their families, or the working families being raked over the coals for overpriced toys. No, our adolescent selves only remember how awesome it felt to get that sweet Tickle-Me-Elmo doll, and how much we ♪”Wanna be a Toys “R” Us kid.”♪ It makes no sense – If McDonald’s closes a few years from now, are you gonna sing about all the “Good Times and Great Tastes” you had, or how much you were “Lovin It” while you take your insulin shot?
This is the problem with nostalgia: It clouds our perspective, and keeps us from seeing things the way they truly are. It’s the same way older Star Wars fans always forget that wooden acting and stiff dialogue were in the original trilogy too, and that Boba Fett literally did jack squat that was cool, except have on a really bad-ass outfit- you just imagined him doing cool things, while you were playing with an action figure you bought at Toys “R” Us.
A number of years ago, I was working a crappy job for low pay, when the bosses told me that they were closing up shop. While all the other employees cleared out, I stayed until the bitter end, helping sell off the remaining stock, move all the merchandise to other still open locations, and wondering what my next move was. I feel very bad for the people working at Toys “R” Us today, who are in that position now, with uncertain futures, not knowing how long it will take them to get new jobs. Hopefully they’ll be able to move on to better things. Hopefully, uncertainty won’t be in their future for long.
This is the real tragedy of a faceless mega-corporation dying out, and if you think the experience of buying an overpriced toy from a big-box store is something to cry over, I have news for you:
It’s time to grow up.