Friday, March 03, 2006

The Island of Discount Toys

We stood there again, on the brink of the gaping maw of consumerism, paralyzed with fear. Once again, the prize of a television so great that only God could watch it eluded us. On the ride home, we made light of it, but inside we both died - just a little.
But that wasn't the worst of it. Before we went to the electronics store, we stopped at our local Toys R Us. It would be our last trip to this location. What had once been a bright spot on the edge of most-urban-Oakland has surrendered to the creeping sickness that is Wal Mart. Unable to compete with the everyday low prices (and slave wages) of Sam, Toys R Us stores are folding up across the globe rather than try to exist on the level of below discount sales. It was a tragic sight. The once proud, stocked to the ceiling rows of shelves had been mostly disassembled and made into a barrier to keep customers from wandering past the front third of the store. The merchandise left on display was marked to ridiculous lows of seventy to eighty percent off the original price. Most of this was due to the fact that the toys that were left would have found a home only with Rudolph's misfit friends. My wife found "Unwed Midge - Barbie's Little Tramp Friend" and my son found at least a half dozen items that he never knew that he couldn't live without - all at well below the cost of throwing them in a dumpster.
The whole experience drained me. I could only remember an evening, just a little more than ten years ago when we went out to experience the new toy store in town. I have always been a fan of toys stores, and even though we had yet to become parents, we strolled the aisles and felt the giddiness of youth - but with a grown up's credit card. The games were kept in alphabetical order, with "Don't Break The Ice" just above "Don't Wake Daddy" (some kind of lifeskills game for children of alchoholic parents?). There were action figures from every bad movie we could name, and some of them we couldn't. We saw what would become a staple in our house for years to come when we rounded the corner where they had a table set up with dozens of Brio trains and a throng of junior engineers moving the wooden rolling stock over bridges and tunnels and curves. Toys R Us became a cheap date destination for us, and a way to determine (in part) what sort of people could hang with us on a regular basis. If you could hang at Toys R Us, you could hang with the Cavens.
After our on was born, we had a regular visit mapped into our weeks and months, buying diapers and diaper genie refills as well as a number of chess sets for my new classroom. One of the first sentences our son spoke was "I need a new Rescue Hero." We were so proud. He wandered the aisles with wide eyes. We watched as his favorite sections shifted from Brio to Hot Wheels to Legos. Whenever Lego announced a new product line, we knew there was a trip to Toys R Us in our future.
Are there better toy stores? More intimate, locally owned, less cavernous? Certainly. Will I miss it nonetheless? You bet. Do I know that there is another Toys R Us just a short twenty minute hop up the freeway? Sure. But it won't be the same.


haywagon said...

If only Birdie's was still open in downtown Berkeley, you'd be all set. At least Mr. Mopp's is still happening!

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Amazon's contribution to the Toy stores going away. The caverns of toys are still there.

mrs. id said...

Correction: Unwed MOTHER Midge... imagine my delight (and horror) at finding a wall full of pregnant Barbie Dolls (barefoot, too!)--representing the other 90% of the world's population--and priced to sell at a mere $3.00 each!

PJ said...

Mr. Mopp's in Berkeley is hanging in and I love to go there too.