Goodbye, Geoffrey the Giraffe

<strong>The Way I See It</strong> Jason Hawk, editor

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor

No asteroid strike, no volcanic eruption, no slow overheating of the Earth, no nuclear strike could be worse news.

OK, that’s a bit hyperbolic.

But at least for those late baby boomers and Gen-Xers who grew up listening to the siren promises of spokes-cartoon Geoffrey the Giraffe, the imminent demise of all U.S. Toys R Us stores is the end of a shining era.

I grew up a Charlie Bucket and Toys R Us was my Wonka chocolate factory. From bikes to trains to video games, the commercials promised endless wonders waiting to be discovered in the aisles.

My parents could not afford to lavish my brother and I with Transformers, Micro Machines, G.I. Joes, Dino-Riders, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Battle Beasts, He-Man, Voltron, MASK, or Thundercats. Oh, we had plenty to play with — Etch A Sketch, Hot Wheels cars by the dozens, Atari 2600, and primo yard sale finds — but Toys R Us represented the dream. It was the Holy Grail, Excalibur, the lost city of Atlantis, and a thousand pirate treasures all under one roof.

Neither Santa Claus’ workshop, nor Uncle Scrooge’s money bin, nor eternal salvation could compete with the dream of one day running through Toys R Us with a blank check.

I remember a third grade trip there with my buddy, Chris Dixon. His parents paraded us through the store — I can still feel the dizzy promise of the bright packaging and the excitement of just being close enough to reach out and touch the toys.

A peek at glory came on my 10th birthday. My parents took me to The Store to pick out a brand new mountain bike. It seemed there were hundreds to choose from, and my father walked with me past each one as we weighed coolness against build against price (money was very much an object). Finally, we came to the black-and-teal Magna that would define pretty much the rest of my childhood. It provided adolescent mobility to friends’ houses, school, and pickup baseball games. It was my Toys R Us trophy.

Social mobility is a wonderful thing and it’s allowed me to take my kids into the hallowed halls far more often. Shopping for Batman figures, poseble dinosaurs, Shopkins, and posters, we’ve rarely had to deal with crowds. The lights have seemed dimmer somehow. The glow isn’t gone but it doesn’t quite shine the same.

By the time you read this, the dream might be over. After filing last year for Chapter 11 protection, Toys R Us signaled it would try to restructure and revamp its stores. It announced it would close about 20 percent of its American locations but now there are strong rumblings it has no choice but to liquidate all its holdings.

Bloomberg reports Toys R Us has not been able to make enough headway in paying down its $5 billion in debt. Even with annual revenue in excess of $11 billion, the cost of running the chocolate factory became too much.

The company has not been able to keep pace with online retailers — namely Amazon — which makes toy manufacturers nervous since Toys R Us makes up a huge chunk of the industry’s sales (though not as much as Wal-Mart, according to Fortune). Even going out of business will pack an economic punch: The last thing toy-makers want is to flood the market with deeply-discounted clearance items, which will cool sales at competing chains. Mattel and Hasbro’s share prices saw big drops Friday amid the Toys R Us news.

Yes, it seems unavoidable that Toys R Us will join Lionel Playworld, KB Toys, FAO Schwartz, and Child World in the retail graveyard. Goodbye, Geoffrey.

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor