When I first moved to Oakland, I became fond of a particular two-to-three block area in nearby Emeryville. There was a Good Guys across the street from a Circuit City that was, in turn, just across a parking lot from a Tower Records. As a new kid in town, I found great solace in these outposts of consumer electronics and media. I didn't buy much at any one of these particular stores, but I was able to keep myself busy while my wife shopped at Trader Joe's. It used to be a big night out for us new parents, as we would trade off turns with our son, who would sometimes ride along in the cart with mom, and when he got a little older he would come and browse the racks with dad. When we were all finished, we would often make a stop on the way home at the nearby Toys R Us.
It may be that last bit that we all miss the most. Comp USA swallowed up Good Guys and went out of business together. Tower Records disappeared almost as quickly, and Circuit City is filing for Chapter Eleven protection. But it was the closing of Toys R Us that gave us all the biggest pause. They turned it into a giant Babies R Us, much to the grumbling chagrin of my son, who in turn began to vent his anger in the direction of Wal-Mart, which chewed up Geoffrey the Giraffe and spit him out in what could best be described as just another day at the office for the folks at Sam's Club.
I know it would make a much more tragic story if the local toy store was run out of business by the giant corporation, and since we can still find a great many Toys R Us stores that were able to dodge that particular bullet, it seems like we shouldn't have much to complain about. But that was our store. The one we bought first Lego sets, and even a few pair of shoes that lit up when he stomped really hard. We used that store as a kind of litmus test for prospective friends: If you could wander the aisles with us for an hour or so and find at least one or two things to get excited about, or even point at in ridicule, you were our kind of people.
Now Emeryville has an Ikea that obscures the view of the train tracks, another reason we used to make the regular trek to the mud flats. Our retail experience has become more directional. We don't often go into Best Buy without an expressed purpose, and most of my music comes from iTunes. Corporate realities have altered the contours of my lifestyle. It seems odd that I find myself becoming wistful for a group of chain stores in a strip mall, but such is the nature of nostalgia in 2008.