Strange what and how we mourn.
When Toys “R” Us recently announced it was shuttering its U.S. operations, I plunged into an inexplicable funk. I hadn’t been to one of their stores for more than a year, and my toy-buying days, at least the brick-and-mortar kind, have dwindled, even as the grandchildren keep coming. Like so many other shoppers, I have increasingly turned to the convenience of online sites, where a few minutes and a couple of clicks will deliver doll or truck to my doorstep.
But logic rarely fuels emotion. My grief at the closing of the iconic brand has more to do with memories, namely those involving my children. I remember standing in line in balmy, pre-dawn November weather to score a Cabbage Patch doll for my daughter. I knew Santa Claus needed a little help that year, because the round-faced, pug-nosed toy was all the rage. Be assured that every parent in that line would’ve similarly sacrificed for Christmas 2017, except the waiting and the finagling would’ve been done in bathrobes and slippers. Last December, for example, I scoured the internet in search of LOL dolls for a granddaughter and grandniece. In my pajamas.
I remember, too, picking up a hockey table set from Toys “R” Us for my sons and spending all Christmas Eve night assembling it. It was the first Christmas after their father had died, and my tool collection and building skills were lacking. But I could sing the Toys “R” Us Kids jingle in a wonderfully off-key rendition. I still can.
Yes, my five millennial children grew up with that anthem and the Toys “R” Us mascot, Geoffrey the Giraffe, with aisle after marvelous aisle stacked with all manner of toys in a store so massive you could spend hours wandering. So knowing it won’t be around for much longer is a reminder of a bygone era, when shopping was done under a roof and not from your phone, when Amazon was a river, not a retail behemoth, and when computers were humongous devices and the internet a computer scientist’s fantasy.
Toys “R” Us is not the only chain struggling or going under. Just a few days ago, Claire’s filed for bankruptcy protection and announced it would close 92 stores by the end of April. In 2016, it had shuttered more than 160. I was appalled — and surprised — by the news. My granddaughters love shopping there, and a gift card from this jewelry retailer is prized above almost all other gifts. In fact, when we stop at the store near us, it is always mobbed by young girls rifling through bracelets, scarves and other accessories.
But Claire’s fell victim to declining foot traffic at shopping malls, as have so many traditional retailers. Sports Authority and hhgregg have gone the way of the dodo bird, and quite a few others — The Limited, JC Penney, Sears/Kmart, J. Crew, Macy’s — are restructuring, sometimes turning to e-commerce as a last gasp measure.
I’m not a shopper, never have been. I don’t browse — much to the chagrin of my girlfriends — and, quite honestly, I get no pleasure from spending money on stuff that hangs in my closet or fits in boxes and drawers. The older I get, the more I preach the gospel of minimalism, of simplification. In short, I should be the last person bemoaning the passing of these giants of consumerism.
Yet watching the symbols of an epoch implode makes me wistful, almost maudlin. It’s nostalgia for a past I rarely inhabited, a homesickness for places I didn’t often visit. Strange what we mourn; strange what makes us feel sad and old.