RIP, You Glorious Hot Mess
The American retail landscape has been undergoing a rapid makeover in the past twenty years.
Here is one of the bigger stories that can be filed under “Bittersweet” in the old memory cabinet:
— NBC Chicago (@nbcchicago) January 29, 2021
Toys R Us has closed the only two stores it had left in the United States.
The iconic toy retailer made the decision as a result of the hardships brought on by the Covid pandemic and plans to shift resources toward opening new locations where there is better shopper traffic, a spokesperson told CNBC in an emailed statement.
“Consumer demand in the toy category and for Toys R Us remains strong and we will continue to invest in the channels where the customer wants to experience our brand,” the person said.
Obviously, I was not a kid when Toys R Us was humming along during its heyday. The reason that this tugs at the heart is that my kid was a kid then. It wasn’t a weekly destination shopping place, of course. It was a special occasion kind of place. The only things that could light a young kid’s eyes up bigger than entering a Toys R Us were seeing the presents on Christmas morning or walking into Disneyland.
Full disclosure: few things get my eyes to light up bigger than Disneyland. I’m nine again as soon as I approach the entrance.
When my daughter was young in the early aughts, a fair number of those Christmas presents were from Toys R Us. Yeah, we had the Amazon option back then but it hadn’t quite eclipsed the adrenaline rush of surviving in-person Christmas shopping at Toys R Us. It was always quite the holiday adventure. Getting to the closest one to me in Los Angeles involved hitting the 405 in the LAX traffic vicinity.
That’s never pleasant.
Then I had to deal with a shrunken L.A. parking lot that the store shared with a Home Depot and a couple of other big-box stores.
Still, I loved it because I knew that I was going to be done shopping when I left there. And I do mean done.
As I was writing that I remembered that there was one closer to me but with such horrible surface street traffic leading to it that I avoided it. I also apparently blocked it out of my memory for a bit.
There is no doubt some revisionist history going on here. I have only one child and she is an adult now and my empty nest mental meanderings about her youth tend towards the sugar-coated. Had you been able to corral me as I was leaving Toys R Us a week before Christmas I would probably not be the bundle of holiday cheer that I’m now remembering.
It still amazes me how much has changed just since my daughter was a young girl. She’s only 22 now, so we’re not exactly talking eons ago. I mentioned Blockbuster in the headline because that was another retail/entertainment fact of life from my daughter’s childhood that vanished seemingly overnight.
Her mother and I divorced when she was very young. The custody arrangement we settled on pretty much split up every week. We’d each get some school night parenting time and she’d spend Friday nights at her mom and stepdad’s house and Saturdays with me. When she was 6 we moved into a place in West L.A. that was close to a Blockbuster. Saturdays then became “Daddy/Daughter Movie Night.” We’d go to Blockbuster early and pick out a movie (or two) then go to dinner at our favorite little Italian restaurant a block from our place, then watch the movie.
There were (are) a lot of things about being a divorced dad that I loathed but those are some very cherished memories.
Blockbuster was, as I said, a fact of life for us then. Before she even finished middle school that Blockbuster had closed and become an IHOP.
We have a tendency to find a competitive retail boogie man to blame when one of our beloved brands goes by the wayside. Usually it’s Amazon. In the case of Blockbuster, it was Netflix. Blockbuster was positioned to do exactly what Netflix did, they just waited too long. And they can’t be blamed for the fact that we all changed our consumption habits.
In the fall of 2017, I was doing a stand-up gig in Alaska. We were driving to Kenai one night for a show and I got very excited when we passed a Blockbuster that had its lights on. I told the promoters that I had thought they were all closed and they said there were two more back in Anchorage that I could visit when we returned.
I did something that weekend that I hadn’t done in a long time and I will most likely never get to do again: I walked into a Blockbuster Video early on a Saturday night. I was immediately transported. My daughter wasn’t with me, but still, there was a moment of magic there.
I bought a t-shirt instead of renting a video. Speaking of changing consumption habits, I haven’t even owned anything that plays any type of disk for at least eight years now.
I was happy though.
All of the Blockbusters in Alaska closed about a year after I was there. There is one left open in Bend, Oregon.
I might need a post-pandemic road trip.
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PJ Media Senior Columnist and Associate Editor Stephen Kruiser is the author of “Don’t Let the Hippies Shower” and “Straight Outta Feelings: Political Zen in the Age of Outrage,” both of which address serious subjects in a humorous way. Monday through Friday he edits PJ Media’s “Morning Briefing.” His columns appear twice a week.