The toy giant Toys R US declared bankruptcy this year and is the first Christmas in which many Americans miss not being able to go to the store to “play before buying”.
In 1948, after having fought in the Second World War, Charles Lazarus founded in Washington DC the Childrens Bargain Town store, which in 1957 was renamed Toys R US, which literally means “we are toys”.
The concept of “American toy store” that was born with the generation of “baby boomers” was overtaken by purchases on the Internet, so Toys R US filed for bankruptcy last June and closed more than 700 stores in the United States.
“When I grew up that was the shop to go find toys, go to see dolls like Barbie, the Cabage Patch Kids,” Millie Cerna Castro, 44, told Efe.
“Birthday, Christmas or other occasions were always going to look for toys there,” recalled the Salvadoran-born American.
Cerna, mother of Anthony and Daniel Castro, ages 11 and 13, respectively, keeps baby blankets and bottles from the baby section, called Babys R US, from the time their children were born, in addition to a Toys R gift card US unused for closure.
Today’s pre-teens cherish robots, cars, balls and other Toys R US toys.
In the first Christmas without the chain of stores, Toys R US toys can be found, except educational games or exclusive dolls with the brand, “but you have to go to different stores or look for them online”, says Cerna Castro.
The first kids who enjoyed toys from Toys R US’s flagship store today are seven-year olds.
Remberto Cerna, 71, who in El Salvador was a teacher of rural schools, is the father of Millie.
“An educational game, very well thought out, of Toys R US that I bought for my daughter when she was little was for spelling and constructing words,” recalls Cerna.
“Children,” he adds, “could play with everything and when you saw what you liked the most, you bought that and did not have to guess what to buy.”
In the city of Pomona (Los Angeles County), the Guatemalan George Samayoa, 57, owns the nostalgic toy store En-Force Collectibles, which currently sells Toys R Us items to collectors.
“Many people miss them, because they no longer exist,” Samayoa tells Efe.
His brother Edwin bought the illuminated sign from the Toys R Us store in West Covina, also in southern California, and with the permission of “the lawyers of the franchise” he installed it on December 7 in front of En-Force Collectibles as “tribute” in this Christmas.
“The nostalgic impact” of Toys R US “has a lot to do with the education of children,” says Samayoa.
“A customer (Anglo-Saxon) who came last week, came almost crying to see the sign on,” says the toymaker.
“He showed it to the children, they took pictures, it’s a very incredible thing for me,” he adds.
Samayoa bought a coin-operated game in an online auction in which the children ride in a stationary “jet sky” with the giraffe Geoffrey, the Toys R US mascot.
“They had that game in a store and I went to bring it to Sacramento by truck,” he says.
In California, some places where Toys R US operated look desolate with the covered signs, like the one in Burbank, where today the Toy City store operates, or another establishment in Atwater Village, Los Angeles, where today they sell Christmas trees.
Samples of toys Toys R US circulate under the name of Geoffrey’s Toy Box in a limited network of Kroger stores since last November.
Employers who paid for franchise rights have Toys R US stores in some countries.
Both the Cerna and Samayoa families agree that parents and grandparents who prefer to have a toy in their hands before buying it, this Christmas will have to resort to less specialized stores.
A recent report by NPD Group entitled “The purchasing power of grandparents within the toy industry” indicates that in the United States annual sales of entertainment for children amount to 28,000 million dollars.
A quarter of that amount, “7,000 million dollars a year,” is what “grandchild consignees” spend, who 85% prefer to buy in “physical stores”.