More than a doll
Lamenting the loss of America’s favorite toy store
When I was a little girl, my toys of choice typically were equine-related. My Little Pony and Breyer horses were among the favorites. I also had a bunch of stuffed animals, including a giant white unicorn. I wasn’t into Barbie and didn’t have any baby dolls, but in the second grade, there was one popular toy I couldn’t live without: a Cabbage Patch Kid.
Like most of my peers—not only in the Bay Area where I grew up, but also around the country—the must-have toy of the early 1980s was that yarn-haired doll with the plastic face and fabric body. And that was the rub—there weren’t enough of them to meet demand.
The go-to place for Cabbage Patch Kids: Toys R Us. That’s where my mom went to purchase one and, after finding only empty shelves, was placed on an “adoption” waiting list. When Mom got a call at work that the cherubic-faced doll had arrived at the store, she left early to pick her up.
Recent reports that Toys R Us is closing nationwide usher in an end to an era. That news follows the closure of nearly 200 of the stores at the start of the year. For Gen-Xers like me, who grew up with the ubiquitous toy store, it’s about the nostalgia. Sure, you can find many of the same toys online, including on Amazon, the Grim Reaper of the brick-and-mortar retail segment, but surfing the web in no way compares to walking through a giant warehouse filled to the brim with playthings.
I’m especially disheartened for Toys R Us’ estimated 30,000 employees around the U.S., including those here in town. I’ve made my fair share of purchases at the East 20th Street retailer with my 6-year-old in tow. In fact, he asks to go there all the time.
Isaac Larian, CEO of the company that makes the Bratz dolls, is leading an effort to save the chain. He and other investors have committed $200 million to the effort and have set up a GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/helpsavetoysrus) to generate donations from the public to bid on the company through bankruptcy proceedings. Their goal: $1 billion by a Memorial Day deadline to keep a majority of the 700-plus remaining locations open.
Considering such donations are basically gifts for a commercial operation (read: not tax-deductible), and don’t give donors any stake in the company, the fundraising drive seems like a Hail Mary. As of the CN&R’s deadline, five days into the campaign, 1,645 people had pledged $49,000, an average of about $30 each. The odds of getting an additional nearly 27 million people to give a similar amount? Pretty slim, I’d say.
I don’t recall the precise moment I first held Doris, a brunette who came with a birth certificate bearing that name, but she certainly was well-loved for years. Indeed, even after I outgrew her and my other childhood toys, she was among the special ones I kept stored away for decades. After several moves, though, and some prodding from my husband, I gave Doris to a local charity thrift store.
Honestly, I kind of regret that now. Call me sentimental, but that doll was more than fabric and plastic. It was a link to my childhood and a symbol of the lengths to which our loved ones will go to make us happy.