Preface: I was once asked what I would like for my birthday. I merrily replied, "Toys! Plastic toys!" I was seventeen at the time.
My son still grits his teeth and grumbles whenever we pass by the "Babies R Us" in Emeryville. That used to be "his" toy store. Back when we weR "Toys" instead of "Babies." He and I spent many a glorious afternoon wandering the aisles and imagining shopping sprees that would fill the back of our car. Most of the time we walked out with just a ninety-nine cent Hot Wheel, and sometimes we didn't buy anything. It was a comfort for us to know that there was a warehouse full of toys just over the hill when we really needed it.
Wal-Mart put an end to all that. "Toys R Us" couldn't match the everyday low prices of that retail behemoth, and so the big change came and the toy store became a baby store. My son wanted no part of that. He just recently noted that the shopping center had finally managed to change the big sign that announces all the stores in the mall to reflect the change, years after it had come. The next victim in the toy war, according to Forbes, will be KB. It would seems that all those acres of playthings have gone by the wayside, and people are either going to discount stores where they can buy their prescriptions and table lamps while they look for action figures for their kids, or they are pointing, clicking and waiting for the Internet to send them Hasbro or Mattel.
KB Toys, or Kay Bee as they were originally known, has been around since 1922, and ironically when they filed for bankruptcy last year, what was left of them was snapped up by Toys R Us. And now the watch continues. We can still get in the car and drive up the highway to our nearest Toy Barn, and for a few minutes we can feel that same giddy whirl of conspicuous consumption. We shall continue to make those pilgrimages, knowing full well that we are clinging to a chunk of Americana that is only a few decades old, but then again, so am I.
Epilogue: Some years after that first inquiry, amidst a sea of opened packages that did in fact contain plastic toys, my mother asked me when it would be okay to stop giving me plastic toys. I replied, "Never."