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Recently I decided to take extensive photographs of a typical Toys R Us store mainly because late last year, just before Christmas, Toys R Us had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This month Toys R Us is closing a large number of its stores throughout the United States. Nearly three years ago I did an extensive post covering the two-month period that the Kmart in Greenbelt, Maryland conducted its going out of business sale. This time I decided to take a photo of a Toys R Us store that is NOT among the stores that are slated for closure because I wanted to provide sort of a time capsule as to what it was like to visit a Toys R Us store on a typical day when it was in normal operations.

The biggest irony about the upcoming store closings is that this year is Toys R Us’ 70th anniversary. When I looked up Toys R Us’ Wikipedia page I learned one interesting fact—that chain started its first store in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, DC. That store, which was then-called Children’s Supermart, was operating in a space that is now occupied by the iconic nightclub Madam’s Organ Blues Bar. A few years later the first store with the Toys R Us name was opened in Rockville, Maryland. Toys R Us went from being a local business to a national (then international) store chain when it was sold to Interstate Department Stores, Inc. in 1966.

In a way it’s kind of sad that this is happening to Toys R Us because I grew up watching those commercials on television that featured someone dressed in a Geoffrey Giraffe costume while the ad jingle went “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid/There’s a million of toys at Toys R Us that I can play with.”

There was only one Toys R Us store in the town that I grew up in (Glen Burnie, Maryland). Sometimes my mother would buy toys from that store but she also purchased toys from Montgomery Wards and Sears as well. I still have memories of when I used to go to the one in the Glen Burnie Mall and it had a sign that said that children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Sometimes I would get permission from my mom to go to either the Record Bar (which sold vinyl records, 8-track tapes, and cassette tapes) or the video arcade (both of which have long since gone out of business) while she and my grandmother went inside of some clothing store. I was somewhere between 12-15 when I did this. (I know that for a fact because I pretty much lost interest in doing this once I reached 16.) I always made an effort to go past the Toys R Us entrance in the mall where I would enter that store without being accompanied by an adult just so I would flout that rule. None of the store employees ever did anything to kick me out for being an unaccompanied minor under 16 but it still filled my juvenile ego to know that I flouted a store rule. I never stayed too long inside Toys R Us because most of the toys were geared towards younger kids and I had pretty much outgrown any interest I had in things like Barbie dolls or Play-Doh. I only went inside because a sign said I couldn’t do it and it was an easy way to rebel against authority without getting into any kind of serious trouble. (LOL!)

Ironically that Glen Burnie Toys R Us is still going strong and it’s among the stores that is being saved from closure for now. The same can’t be said for the rest of the mall and, in fact, that mall had finally closed down for good last year.

When I moved closer to the Washington, DC area as an adult, I was lucky enough to be in an area where there were three different Toys R Us stores all located just a short drive away from my home—in New Carrollton, Laurel, and Langley Park. I used to periodically shop at Toys R Us mainly to purchase presents for my then-husband’s nieces and nephews or to buy baby shower gifts for various friends, relatives, and coworkers. There was a time when my church had a Toys for Tots-like program around the winter holiday season where we purchased toys for the children at this non-profit community center in Washington, DC that strived to provide programs for inner city kids from low-income families that would be an alternative to gangs and I used to shop at Toys R Us for that reason as well.

But then Toys R Us encountered its first problem when the dotcom boom happened and it was very slow in getting an online presence.  Amazon, which sold only books at the time, wanted to start selling toys so Toys R Us entered into a ten-year contract with Amazon to allow that online site to be its exclusive online supplier. It might have sounded like a good idea at the time but, in retrospect, that deal was like having Coca-Cola decide to let Pepsi-Cola handle all of its marketing and distribution of Coke products. Amazon soon allowed other third-party retailers to sell toys on its site, which resulted in a lawsuit.

One-by-one, over the next few years, the Toys R Us stores that were located closer to my home started to close. The one in New Carrollton was located in a building with a flat roof. A major blizzard hit the area where two feet of snow accumulated. The flat roof of the New Carrollton Toys R Us had accumulated so much snow that it literally caved in. I still remember seeing local news reports about that roof collapse along with pictures of stuffed animals floating on top of huge puddles that were created by melting snow. The chain decided to permanently close that store rather than rebuild. The building was razed then rebuilt and a CVS Pharmacy now sits in that location.

As for the one in Laurel I remember that the chain decided to do a remodel of that store while remaining open for business during the remodeling. Once that job was done that store looked really nice with a fresh coat of paint and bright lights. A year or two later the chain decided to close the Laurel store, which had me rolling my eyes since that chain had spent time and money remodeling that store only close it soon afterwards.

At that point the one in Langley Park was the closest Toys R Us store to my home. Compared to the Laurel store or even the New Carrollton store, that Langley Park store was a major hot mess. The floors had scruff marks everywhere and the shelves were totally messy and disorganized. It was almost like no one cared about having that store looked its best so it would encourage customers to return. I don’t know if the clientele had anything to do with the store deciding not to do much to keep up appearances or not. (Many immigrants, mainly from Central America and the Caribbean, started to settle in Langley Park starting in the 1980’s.)

Early one morning the bodies of two men were found in the parking lot of the Langley Park Toys R Us. Each of the men have had their their throats slashed. A third man was also knifed and survived. Naturally this story of three immigrant men being attacked in a Toys R Us parking lot was extensively covered by the local news media. Police found out that these slayings were the result of a drug deal gone bad and a suspect was arrested. That Toys R Us store closed soon after that incident.

As a result of those closures, these days if I want to shop at a Toys R Us, I have to drive at least a half-an-hour in any direction in order to get to a store. As a result, my shopping at Toys R Us has become very rare. These days if I need to buy a toy for whatever reason, I’m more likely to go to the Target store that’s located only three miles from my home and it has a pretty decent toy selection.

At this point there are only two Toys R Us left in my county and they require at least (depending on the traffic) a half-an-hour commute. One is a regular Toys R Us store in Clinton and the other is a Toys R Us outlet store at National Harbor. The Clinton store is the one that is among the stores that Toys R Us plan to close soon. Once that happens, my county will only have the outlet store left and no more regular Toys R Us stores.

At one point Toys R Us had opened a giant flagship store at Times Square in New York City. I went there many times whenever my then-husband and I visited his father and step-mother. I used to be awed by the four floors that not only included toys but I remembered there was a giant life-sized version of Barbie’s dreamhouse that you could walk through while browsing the selection of Barbie dolls that were displayed on shelves inside of that house, an animatronic t-rex robot, a giant candy section, and large 3D displays that were built from LEGOs.  In addition there was this giant indoor ferris wheel that was as tall as the store itself so one could see all four floors of the store while going on that ride. I never went on that ride myself because I still have memories the one and only time I went on a ferris wheel when I was seven years old and it literally made me feeling so dizzy that I never cared to repeat that experience. On top of it, the lines to that ferris wheel were usually long and I wasn’t in the mood to wait in a long line to get on a ride. I last went to New York City in 2011 (just a few months before my hip surgery and my husband’s subsequent sudden walkout) and I walked past that store while seeing the ferris wheel through the glass windows from the outside. I’ve heard that this store is now closed, which is too bad. Here’s a video tour of the Times Square store I found on YouTube that was shot shortly before it closed.

As for the chain itself, it has been going through more troubles in recent years. This article said that Toys R Us has an e-commerce site that’s very clunky to use compared to Amazon while also mentioning that kids these days are more likely to play with computers, smartphones, and tablets than traditional toys like Barbie dolls and Lego. Another article said that Toys R Us’ prices are higher than what Walmart, Amazon, and Target charge for the same toy. There is another factor in Toys R Us’ decline and it has less to do with kids’ playtime, their parents’ shopping habits, or the cost of toys and more with the fact that in 2005 the management decided to sell the company in a leveraged buyout to the real estate investment trust Vornado Realty Trust and the private equity firms KKR and Bain Capital. This trio of companies have focused more on doing a complex financial deal that would leave them richer while drowning Toys R Us in debt. It’s the usual Wall Street financial shenanigans that focus more on extracting huge short-term profits for the very wealthy 1%  class and less on operating a viable profitable store chain in the long run.

In a way one could say that karma had finally struck Toys R Us. When that chain first started opening stores throughout the United States in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, a lot of the smaller toy stores that were locally owned were driven out of business because many of them couldn’t compete with the wide selection of toys or the low prices that Toys R Us provided. Now it’s Toys R Us’ turn to eventually get driven out of business through a combination of increased competition (from the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Target) and being literally milked heavily for profits by a bunch of Wall Streeters.

Of course it’s the employees who are suffering the most due to increased workplace stress and losing their jobs.

Which led me to my recent visit to a Toys R Us store in Annapolis, Maryland. I wanted to pick a store that isn’t among the stores being closed and I ended up picking the one in Annapolis because I decided to attend the weekly Thursday night meeting of my support group for people who are separated or divorced. The meetings are held in Crofton and Annapolis is just a few miles away on Route 50 so it made sense for me to go to the Annapolis store then head back to Crofton for the meeting.

The next photo shows the outside of the store. Some of the stores in this chain are Toys R Us only while other stores are its Babies R Us subsidiary. (The latter store focuses on items for babies and toddlers such as furniture, formula, and diapers.) This location is a larger store that has both Toys R Us and Babies R Us under the same roof.

Here’s what I first saw when I entered the store.

The next photo shows the Fingerlings, robot toys which were THE Hot Toy of 2017. These critters were sold out everywhere just before Christmas and these toys were sold on eBay for several times the original $15 retail price. As of late January I saw a few of these toys on the store shelves at the original retail price.

There was a section devoted to toys that were based on recent movies, such as Coco and Batman vs. Superman.

The store was nearly empty when I visited it. I know that the fact that I visited it on a Thursday in late January was a major factor. But this particular Toys R Us is located across the street from Annapolis Mall and I noticed that the mall was filling up with cars when I was leaving the area yet Toys R Us was mostly empty.

The store had a few Toys R Us exclusive toys, such as this Funko Pop! vinyl set featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

They had some retro video games based on Space Invaders and the old Sega Genesis console system on the shelves yet they kept the games for the newer console systems kept behind locked cases.

Curiously Toys R Us had a bunch of Sharper Image products that it was selling on its store shelves. (The Sharper Image is a separate store chain that specializes in upscale electronic products.) This store sold mainly robot dinosaurs.

Toys R Us had an entire display devoted to last year’s hot trend, Fidget Spinners. (Remember them? I certainly do.)

Toys R Us carried a few American Girl dolls but they were all of the 14-inch Wellie Wishers.

This next item was among some of the more unusual toys I found on sale. This one is a Bear Surprise, where each bear is a pregnant female who could carry anywhere between 3-5 cubs. (The person wouldn’t know for sure until after he/she purchases a Bear Surprise and take her home.)

The one thing I most remember about Toys R Us is its mascot, Geoffrey Giraffe. I remember when that store used to sell Geoffrey Giraffe stuffed animals where the giraffe wore a sweater with the Toys R Us logo. I didn’t see any stuffed Geoffrey Giraffes on sale. In fact, I didn’t see much of Geoffrey Giraffe anywhere in this store except for this graphic. It’s obvious that they’ve redesigned him but he looks incredibly lame compared with the Geoffrey Giraffe I knew when I was growing up. It was like someone decided to make Geoffrey into this bland forgettable character that would blend in with a corporate environment. I can’t imagine any child being enthusiastic about this Geoffrey Giraffe.

The Journey Girls are 18-inch dolls that are Toys R Us’ answer to the ever-popular American Girl doll. They cost around $40, which is cheaper than American Girl’s $110 dolls.

Curiously Toys R Us had a section devoted to jewelry from Claire’s (which is a separate retail chain that sells jewelry and other accessories).

Here’s another Toys R Us exclusive I found, a Zoomer robot unicorn.

Naturally Toys R Us had a line of Star Wars toys.

They had a whole shelf full of Sharper Image drones.

Here are some more toys I found at Toys R Us, which includes Wonder Woman, Gremlins, and even a stuffed Godzilla plush.

I remember when Teddy Ruxpin first came out back in the 1980s and I saw news stories about this teddy bear. I was amazed by the animatronic technology back then even though this product was aimed at young children and I didn’t have any young children of my own. Teddy Ruxpin has been re-released and he’s compatible with a smartphone app and Bluetooth.

Toys R Us had a section devoted to bikes, small cars that children could ride in, and rollerblades.

Here’s another shot of an empty store aisle.

Toys R Us had an arts and crafts section including a shelf dedicated to nothing but Crayola products.

A quarter of the store was devoted to Babies R Us, which had cribs, blankets, and other products geared towards infants and toddlers.

Here’s a shot of the hall in the Babies R Us section that has the restrooms.

Toys R Us had a couple of STEM-focused high tech toys that are designed to encourage making and coding but they were pretty small compared to what Target and Best Buy offer.

They had a bunch of shelves devoted to board games. Some were the games I knew from my childhood, such as Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots, while others were definitely ones I hadn’t heard of before.

There was an aisle devoted entirely to LEGO products.

This one was another interesting item where you create your own version of a Kinder Surprise Egg.

Toys R Us had toy vacuum cleaners and toy irons for those budding young housewives.

I remember when Zhu Zhu Pets were the big Hot Toy way back in 2009. Like Fingerlings, Zhu Zhu Pets were sold out in stores everywhere just before the holiday season but then they became plentiful once Christmas passed. I haven’t seen Zhu Zhu Pets on sale anywhere in my area in a few years so I was surprised when I found them at Toys R Us.

Toys R Us also had Barbie dolls on sale along with newer dolls, such as the DC Super Hero Girls dolls.

I saw one discount bin full of polar bear Christmas ornaments.

I found a few dolls and plush based on Disney’s Moana movie and Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. video game series.

I decided to make one purchase. The woman at the cash register offered me a free frequent rewards card. I accepted it even though I rarely shop at Toys R Us these days and I don’t know when I’ll make another trip to any Toys R Us store in my area. (Like I wrote earlier, most of those stores are located at least a 30-minute trip from my home.) I have to admit that the card is pretty colorful.

Here’s the one purchase I made. I bought a $15 Fingerlings monkey for the heck of it. I shot a video of the first time I played with this baby monkey, which I’ll write about in my next post.

UPDATE (March 8, 2018): Toys R Us is now seriously considering liquidating all of its stores in the U.S. That chain had recently started doing the same in the U.K. I’m glad I managed to take these photos of the Annapolis store when I did because I now have a time capsule of what a typical Toys R Us store was like when it was in business.

UPDATE (March 14, 2018): It’s official! After 70 years in business, Toys R Us will close its remaining 800 stores, including the one in Annapolis where I took the photos in this post.


Santa Claus

My birthday is on December 15 and I usually like to do something fun. Last year I spent my birthday last slogging through Baltimore in very bitter cold temperature and frantically trying to contact someone in authority about a homeless man who was sleeping on the steps of the Baltimore Convention Center despite the fact that the Polar Vortex had come through the area plunging the temperature below 20 degrees.

I don’t know if I reached anyone and I was stymied by the fact that I don’t live in Baltimore so I didn’t know who to turn to. I spent the next couple of days doing Google searches to see if anyone had frozen to death on the steps of the Convention Center only to turn up empty. I guess the man survived that bitter cold night but I’ll never know for sure.

This year I decided to go to Tyson’s Corner Mall in Virginia because I had spent some fun birthdays there in previous years and I also wanted to avoid any more drama about homeless people in cold weather. December 15 fell on a Friday this year so I was looking forward to it.

Except it rained that day then the temperature plunged to below freezing so all that rain on the ground turned into ice. I still have memories of when I slipped on ice in Annapolis back in 2011, which resulted in my hip replacement being knocked out of position so I had to undergo hip revision surgery later that year in order to put it back into place. I just wasn’t willing to risk falling and having my hip replacement messed up.

So I decided to postpone that trip a couple of days. December 18 fell on a Monday, which is usually a relatively quiet night at that mall. Except it was just a few days before Christmas so there were more people shopping there on a Monday night than usual. But it still wasn’t bad. Here are the photos I shot that night.

I took the Metro to the mall, where I was greeted with this cool rainbow Christmas tree and some lovely twinkling lights when I arrived.

Some people were resting at one of the many fire pits that are set up outside this time of the year.

People could be found skating on a temporary ice skating rink, which is also usually set up this time of the year.

The first store I hit was American Girl Place. I was on a mission. Here’s the backstory: This year American Girl decided on an African American character for its Girl of the Year named Gabriela McBride. She was the first girl of color to be given such an honor since since 2005. She’s described as being an artist, which I find personally cool since I’m an artist myself. Earlier this year I was having camera problems so when I arrived at American Girl Place back in June, I was unable to shoot any photos while I was there. A few weeks later it was July and I decided to return to American Girl Place with my Canon DSLR in tow. I was able to shoot a few pictures until the battery ran out of juice. So I got pictures of the new contemporary doll Tenney Grant and her friend, Logan Everett, who’s known as the first boy doll that American Girl has ever released. I also got a picture of a case displaying what was the newest BeForever doll at the time—Melody Ellison, who’s supposed to represent the 1960s. But those were the only pictures I got before my camera battery died on me.

Ironically  I came close to arriving at American Girl Place without a camera this time around. I had left my Canon PowerShot camera in the car and I didn’t realize it until after I had gone on the Metro train at the Greenbelt station. I managed to dart out of the train before the doors closed and walked outside the station and back to the parking lot so I could retrieve my camera.

It was worth the effort to retrieve my camera and arrive at the mall a little bit later because, at long last, I was finally able to take pictures of the 2017 Girl of the Year, Gabriela McBride. On top of it, this doll was scheduled to retire after New Year’s Eve and be replaced by the 2018 Girl of the Year (which means that this doll will be retired by the time you read this). Here’s the standee where people can take selfies with Gabriela and a brick backdrop.

Here’s Gabriela herself. I think she’s a cute doll and I love her art accessories, especially the miniature replicas of a paint set and a sketchbook pad.

I was also able to take pictures of another doll on this trip. American Girl has been releasing a new line of contemporary characters who are growing up in today’s era. I took pictures of would-be country musician Tenney Grant and her male friend Everett Logan on the last trip. American Girl released another character who have nothing to do with Tenney or Everett and she has her own separate story. Her name is Z Yang, she is a Korean American, and she is passionate about photography and videography. Like Gabriela McBride, Z Yang also shares my interest. (To be fair, Tenney Grant shares my interest in playing the guitar except I prefer rock and folk music over country.) Z Yang’s miniature photography and video equipment are absolutely adorable (even if they are expensive).

They even have a human version of Z Yang’s meet outfit, which I personally find adorable. Sadly they are only available in children’s sizes.

Since my last visit to American Girl place back in July, American Girl have released a new BeForever historical doll. Her name is Nanea Mitchell and she has a white American father and a Hawaiian mother. She is described as growing up in the then-U.S. territory of Hawaii in 1941. Anyone who knows history will know what major event happened in Hawaii back in 1941.

I found Nanea to be gorgeous in person. I loved her meet outfit and her shell necklace.

They offer a variety of Hawaiian clothes for Nanea that are sold separately.

American Girl offers Nanea’s Family Market, which can be yours for only $250. (LOL!) I have to admit that I’m really impressed by the details on that furniture, including the tiny replicas of vintage World War II-era posters.


Here’s a photo of the 1960s BeForever character, Melody Ellison, wearing this gorgeous yellow outfit.

American Girl had this good sale on Melody’s Hairstyling Set, which was only priced at $5. That’s a pretty good deal compared to the high prices that this store usually charges. If I had a Melody doll, I definitely would’ve purchased it.

American Girl had a really cute new outfit for Julie Albright, who represents the 1970s. I remember people actually wore embroidered peasant blouses and blue jeans skirts back when I was a kid so her outfit definitely brought back memories for me.

Since another BeForever character, Rebecca Rubin (who represents the 1910s), is Jewish, there was a Hanukkah display featuring this doll.

The next two photos show a display of the Wellie Wishers dolls. They are pretty cute and I like their outfits.

American Girl had a display touting this one new service that they offer called Create Your Own. The idea is that if you don’t find a doll and/or an outfit that you want, you can always create a customized product. The idea of a customized doll isn’t new. The Japanese ball-jointed doll company Volks has long offered something called a Full Choice System which, from what I heard, can run into hundreds of dollars. The now-defunct Makies dolls had a similar service where you can get a 3D printed doll for far less. (I still miss that company. Sigh! If you’re curious, you can check out my posts about my one and only Makies doll, Victoria.)

So American Girl is now trying its hand at a similar customized service. There are two caveats about this new service: 1) You can only order the doll and/or outfit online since the store don’t offer any facilities to allow anyone to design something in-store and 2) Your customized doll and/or outfit will cost way more than an off-the-shelf product. According to this link, a Create Your Own doll costs $200 versus an off-the-shelf doll for $115.

I saw these American Girl Mega Construx kits featuring characters who were previous Girls of the Year, including Mia St. Clair, Kanani Akina, Isabelle Palmer, Lea Clark, and Saige Copeland.


Here’s a case full of the 9-inch mini doll versions of the historical 18-inch BeForever characters.

Here are a few more miscellaneous photos I took inside of American Girl place, including the  store’s Christmas tree.

I went to Build-A-Bear Workshop where I checked out these Star Wars plushes and some Christmas reindeers.

I checked out this temporary Christmas shop that will be in business until after New Year’s Day.

Strangely that store had some Day of the Dead-themed ornaments and decorations even though that holiday had long since passed.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Beatles Christmas ornament available for sale.

I went to The Disney Store, where I saw a lot of tie-ins to the new Disney/Pixar movie Coco (which I actually saw on Christmas Day) and the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi (which I saw on the day after Christmas)

I went to the LEGO store where I saw some cool things on display.

I ate my belated birthday dinner at Wasabi, the Japanese sushi place that delivers its food on conveyor belts. I really love the food, which is why I keep on returning to that place. If my finances weren’t so tight, I would be eating there more often than once or twice a year.

I went to Lolli and Pops where I purchased some gummy bears made from champaign and took these pictures.

That store sold two teddy bears named—what else?—Lolli and Pops.

Here are a few miscellaneous photos I took during my time at that mall.

Last week I had to take my car to a dealer in Silver Spring because there was a recall on the steering wheel. After I had that fixed and picked up that car, I decided to chill out at a nearby Target store in Silver Spring. I normally don’t go to this particular store, mainly because there’s another Target that’s located closer to my home but I decided to go there since it was on the way back from the car dealership.

This particular Target has giant red cement dots outside its doors (which is a feature that the Target that is closer to my home doesn’t have). Normally I don’t pay attention to those dots but I saw that two of those cement dots have been converted to resemble the heads of Mario and Luigi from Super Mario Bros. and other numerous Nintendo video games.

The heads were there to promote the recently released Nintendo Switch console system.

I stepped inside the store where I noticed that this store is larger compared to the one I usually go to. It also had items on sale that I’ve never seen at the other Target, such as American Girl’s Wellie Wishers dolls.

Those dolls were released last year but it was the first time I had ever seen them in person. That’s because it’s been a year since I last set foot inside an American Girl Place. The next photo shows the clothes and other accessories that one can buy for a Wellie Wishers doll, which are priced somewhere between $20-25.

The Wellie Wishers are smaller than the other American Girl dolls. From what I’ve read, these dolls were created for kids who are younger than the larger dolls’ target audience of girls between the ages 8-12. These dolls have vinyl bodies (compared to the larger dolls’ cloth torsos) and they are depicted as being somewhere between the ages of 4-7 (while the larger dolls are supposed to be around 9 or 10 years old). At $60 per doll, they are definitely cheaper than the larger dolls’ $115 price. But these dolls are more expensive than the 18-inch Our Generation dolls that Target sells as its alternative to American Girl. (The Our Generation dolls are generally priced between $20-35 depending on how many accessories are included with a certain doll.) I still find them to be pretty cute and their clothes are very lovely and colorful.


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