I Couldn’t Afford to be a Toys “R” Us Kid

What exactly am I going to miss?

Like many, I was saddened to hear that the retailer Toys “R” Us was shuttering its stores in the United States. Just the name Toys “R” Us induces such a pleasant nostalgic feeling that whisks me back to a time when my biggest concern was hiding the pink slips I had gotten in school from Mrs. Boyd. Believe it or not, I can still recite every word of the store’s famous jingle. However, I cannot say that I was ever a shopper of Toys “R” Us. My patronage of that chain of big-box stores was limited to doing baby shower shopping for expecting couples at Babies “R” Us. The latter, of course, was not even something I did until I was well into my adulthood. As a child, though, I couldn’t afford to be a Toys “R” Us kid.

This is not a complaint. Promise.

My childhood was not one of privilege, despite the fact that I am what our politically-correct, modern society calls a “cis-gendered, heterosexual, white male.” My father worked hard to provide for us. Thus, we always had food on the table, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs. I am so proud of dad and the job that he performed. Yet, dad’s occupation was that of a preacher, and not one of the “Joel Osteen” variety. He has always had a fantastic (eternal) retirement plan. Unfortunately, though, it took churches a few decades to realize that God’s Providence can only sustain a man and his family from hand to mouth, which is certainly enough, but not enough to satisfy the carnal expectations of human beings. There used to be a joke about the perfect preacher always wearing new suits, driving a fancy automobile, having the ideal family, but who lived on the scraps of Lazarus. As a child growing up in that environment, I wasn’t laughing.

It wasn’t all bad, though.

My mother remained in the home and provided the kind of nurturing that working moms and dads pay thousands of dollars for today but still do not receive. She read to me. She encouraged my love for music. (I was only allowed a few hours of television a day. Basically, I’d only watch Captain Kangaroo. Sesame Street, and Mr. Rogers in the morning. Then, mom would put a huge stack of whatever records could be cheaply procured on the record player. Usually, this stack consisted of eclectic genres consisting of everything from jazz to bluegrass. If there was any pop music in the mix, it would have been decades old. There were also a lot of instrumental music, which reminds me of the fact that the only song I was not allowed to play was the bawdy-sounding The Stripper by David Rose.) I was encouraged by my mother to use my imagination and play. I don’t even think I sat down until the afternoon when local TV affiliates played syndicated programs like the Hanna-Barbera cartoons or live action fare like Space:1999 or the original Star Trek. Most importantly, mom and dad would sing hymns with us as she was getting us ready for bed. Before leaving us for the night, mom and dad would pray with us and listen attentively as we said our prayers.

I was more of a TG&Y kid.

When it came to indulging any childhood tantrums, I was more likely to receive a toy from the defunct TG&Y. We were dollar store people, not that there is anything wrong with that. We also patronized Kmart back during its heyday of the “blue light special” and ordered other things from Sears catalogs. (It is sad to realize that both of those stores are now “endangered” too.) I knew, as a kid, that I would never be of the Toys “R” Us variety.  Walmart was not even an option to me since it was still a couple of years from its major expansion into the continental United States. When I received my biggest childhood present ever during the Christmas of 1987, the Nintendo Entertainment System, my parents had to buy it for me from Sears. A lot of my game cartridges came from Sears too.

It comes down to “survival of the fittest.”

Darwin’s theory of natural selection, put simply, is the survival of the fittest. The strong survive. The weak will die. I may disagree with Darwin’s conclusions when it comes to humanity, but it certainly seems applicable to business. Toys “R” Us proved to be weak, just like KB Toys and FAO Schwartz. Having no brick-and-mortar stores, the juggernaut of Amazon could provide any toy one could want for less than its big-box store competitor. In a similar fashion, online commerce is killing the traditional retail business. If these retailers don’t want to join Toys “R” Us in the dustbin of history, they will have to adapt to meet the needs and expectations of a technologically-dependent populace. When that day comes, we might feel a twinge of sadness, as with the demise of Toys “R” Us, but may realize upon reflection that we actually contributed to its downfall by our lack of patronage.