Carter: Toys 'R' Us kids no longer

The last bastion of American toy stores has fallen with the announcement that Toys ‘R’ Us will be closing or selling off all of its U.S. stores, including stores nearby Carroll County in Owings Mills, Frederick and Columbia.

The writing was on the wall when the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last fall, as toys shoppers — like consumers of all items it seems — made their purchases at Amazon, Walmart or Target. A “devastating” performance during the holiday season, perhaps in part due to customer concerns they wouldn’t be able to make returns because of the bankruptcy, made lenders nervous about investing in Toys ‘R’ Us, leading to Thursday’s announcement.


As someone who grew up a Toys ‘R’ Us kid in the 1980s and as the dad of two young daughters, this was a difficult piece of news to take.

When I was a kid, it didn’t get much better than a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us. Growing up in eastern Baltimore County (and later in Harford County), the closest Toys ‘R’ Us was appropriately perched atop a hill at the intersection of Pulaski Highway (U.S. 40) and Rossville Blvd., giving a certain mystique to this prodigious castle of youthful wonderment.

It was a special occasion when Mom or Dad took you to Toys ‘R’ Us. Even better when Grandma or Pop-Pop did so. My cousin would usually visit my grandmother for a week during the summer, around our birthdays, and my parents would drop me off there for a long weekend stay as well. That inevitably meant a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us before my cousin had to go home, and a big ticket birthday purchase for each of us funded by Grandma.

My Pop-Pop bought a swingset there when I was 4. I remember riding in the back of his powder blue pickup truck with a cap on it — when such things were allowed and before SUVs were all the rage — with the boxes in the back with me, and he and my dad assembling it on Pop-Pop’s front lawn. It was “E.T.” themed, complete with a plastic bike swing so you could pretend you were flying past the moon like Elliott. (Reese’s Pieces not included.)

Sometimes, after a long day of errand running with my mother while my dad was at work, a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us just to browse was a great reward (although you could almost always talk Mom into getting “one little thing.”)

And how can I forget the first time I saw the yellow cover of Super Mario Bros. 3 on the video game wall, with the tickets below that said “Coming Soon.” Arguably the most anticipated video game of all time, I remember saving my $3 a week allowance for months (and probably getting a little advance from Mom and Dad) to finally buy it when it was released in February 1990, happily taking my ticket to the cashiers’ station enclosed in glass in the corner of the store where they used to keep the video games and other high-end items.

As my kids have gotten older, a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us for them is likewise treated as a big deal, even if it’s just to browse to get ideas for their birthday or Christmas and play with the Thomas the Tank Engine display for a brief while. Lately, their favorite thing to do there is sit in each of the “Power Wheels” style vehicles on display and pretend to drive them.

Unfortunately, I am part of the problem that led to Toys ‘R’ Us’ struggles. While I would walk through the store with my two girls for an hour or more, snapping photos on my iPhone of items they’d hope would show up under the Christmas tree or gift-wrapped for their birthdays, it was rare I made a purchase there. Instead, I’d go home and look for the best price online. Occasionally, Toys ‘R’ Us would still have the best deal. Often, Amazon or Target would win out.

With Toys ‘R’ Us gone, what will take its place? Sure, Walmart and Target have toy sections, and some stores like JC Penney’s (if they’re even around much longer) have expanded toy offerings as well, but to a child, there was something special about going to a store that was nothing but toys.

Sadly, we all have to grow up, and some children will never experience the joy of being a Toys ‘R’ Us kid.