The Entertainment Chuckwagon: I don’t wanna grow up!

Washington-Mall-Toys-R-Us-EBack in my day, we didn’t have Amazon.com. We had these places called toy stores. You know, stores that sold toys. Just toys, not weed whackers, kitty litter, or hygiene products – just toys. And, we liked it!

There was Children’s Palace, Toyco, Circus World, Kay Bee, and more. But, now, those stores are gone. Toys R Us was truly the last of the stores that was solely toy focused, where a kid might look at this, look at that, get excited, and later throw a temper tantrum in the middle of the store until their parents bought them the toy they desired. Come on, you know you know someone who did this.

For me, it was a world of He-Man, The Real Ghostbusters, Go-Bots – that’s right, I said Go-Bots, not Transformers. I didn’t wanna grow up, I was a Toys R Us Kid.

So, when it was announced this past March that Toys R Us would be closing their doors for good, for this old fart, it signaled the end of an era for this middle aged guy. With the closing of Toys R Us, it so went the final piece of my childhood. First Children’s Place and Kay Bee Toys, now Toys R Us, now forever shuttered. That’s a real bummer, and it prompted me to learn more about the origins of the store.

So, where did it all begin for the Toys R Us saga?

According to toysrus.com, the store was the brainchild of 25 year old Charles Lazarus, who first opened a baby furniture store called Children’s Bargain Town in 1948 in Washington, D.C.

In 1950, Lazarus decided to try selling toys as well, soon discovering that when toys broke or fell out of fashion, parents would bring their children back to buy more. In order to ensure the success of his venture, Lazarus offered a wide assortment of toys for Joe and Jane Consumer to purchase for their children.

Then came 1957. Americans liked Ike, as he was sworn in for his second term as 34th President of the United States, Great Balls of Fire! was a huge hit for Jerry Lee Lewis, and Doris Day was playing The Pajama Game to the delight of packed movie houses across the country.

It was also the year the very first Toys R Us Store was opened in Rockville, Maryland. The “R” in the store logo appeared backwards to give the impression it was written by a child.  With a catchy name in place, now Toys R Us needed just the right mascot.

Choosing the right mascot is essential for a brand. Lucky Charms has Lucky the Leprechaun. The Pittsburgh Pirates have The Pirate Parrot. Pennsylvania Bridges has Chuck Brutz. And Toys R Us has Geoffrey Giraffe, a character who soon became as beloved as Toys R Us itself.

Geoffrey Giraffe made his commercial debut in 1973 as a live action guy dancing in a giraffe suit, then appeared in animated form as well. Geoffrey soon found a wife, Gigi. Soon, Junior and Baby Gee joined the family.

In 1983, the company branched out into selling children’s clothes as well, with the addition of Kids R Us, followed by Babies R Us in 1996 in 1996. In 1990, Lazarus was inducted in the Toy Industry Association Hall of Fame.

Sadly, Lazarus passed away on March 22 of this year from respiratory failure. Only two months earlier, in January, Toys R Us had announced that like Macy’s, Sears, and K-Mart, they would be closing a limited number of stores.

However, two months later, it was announced that all Toys R Us Stores would be closing their doors for good. Some in the Pittsburgh area closed by April, while the remaining locations closed this past June 27.

In an age of Amazon.com and Wal-Mart, specialty retail stores are a dying breed. Some may call that progress, but shopping online lacks of the excitement of a visit to an actual toy store.

Goodbye, Toys R Us, you may be gone, but never forgotten in our hearts. We’ll always be Toys R Us Kids.

Story by Chuck Brutz for Pennsylvania Bridges