Article: A Goodbye to Toys R Us Times Square
The smell of popcorn wafts through the air. Kids get on line to order ice cream while a ferris wheel spins. Elsewhere toys fly through the air as magicians perform demonstrations. Nearby, adults and children alike buy and consume candy like it's going out of style. You may think this is an amusement park like Coney Island, but it's actually Toys R Us Times Square, one of the largest toy stores to have ever opened in Times Square, New York City. On December 30, 2015 this iconic store closed its doors for the last time.
If you want to find a Toys R Us store in New York City, it isn't that hard. A quick search using their store locator will turn up about ten stores within the five boroughs. However only one of them was designed to be an amusement park and toy store all in one. Located at 1514 Broadway at 44th Street, Toys R Us Times Square opened in November 2001 with the intent of being more than just a warehouse of toys, it was meant to be an experience. From the official Toys R Us web site:
"Kids and kids at heart come from all over the world to marvel at the many attractions at The Center of the Toy Universe®, take a ride on the 60-foot Ferris wheel, hear the roar of the 20-foot animatronic T-Rex dinosaur or make themselves at home in the life-size Barbie® dollhouse. And, with dedicated areas for interactive play and spectacular views of the crossroads of the world, Toys“R”Us Times Square is a “must see” destination. "
Among the various attractions the store held over the years you could visit (bullet point text from the Toys R Us web site):
- Barbie® Dollhouse – Everything Barbie® can be found in this 4,000-square-foot, two-story dollhouse filled with dolls, clothes, accessories, collectibles and more.
- Candy Land® – Bringing the sugary sweet fantasy of the classic Candy Land game to life, this shop offers a tasty variety of treats.
- Cookie Party – A fun, creative and interactive party experience and specialty bakery, offers New York City-area families a new and exciting way to celebrate kids’ birthdays.
- Ferris Wheel – The iconic Toys“R”Us Times Square 60-foot indoor Ferris Wheel has 14 individually themed cabs so guests can ride along with their favorite toys and entertainment characters.
- Jurassic Park™ -- The prehistoric age comes to life with a five-ton, 20-foot-high and 34-foot-long animatronic Jurassic Park T-Rex dinosaur that shakes guests with its powerful roar.
- LEGO® Shop – New York City’s famous skyline — constructed from LEGO® bricks — enables guests to get up-close-and-personal to 25-foot-tall replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Chrysler Building and Empire State Building.
- Scoops“R”Us™ – Customers can treat themselves to a sweet snack at this tasty place, where they’ll enjoy delectable desserts, such as premium ice cream from Häagen Dazs®.
- WONKA – Candy lovers will go on a sensory adventure of sight, smell and sound in this one-of-a-kind shop filled to the brim with fruity and chocolaty confections galore.
Suffice it to say, Toys R Us Times Square was not your typical toy store and it is understandable why tourists flooded into this location every day. For posterity's sake, here was the location and phone number:
Toys“R”Us Times Square
1514 Broadway at 44th Street
New York, NY
I've been visiting this Toy R Us since it opened in 2001. Back then the main "Transformers" toy line was "Robots in Disguise" and I recall the action figure area being much wider and more open than it is now. Over the years "Transformers" would gain more and more prominence on the floor of this store. After the 2007 live action movie was a success, a statue of Optimus Prime (standing taller than 6 feet if I recall correctly) was on permanent display for people to take pictures with. Above the Transformers section was a huge mural focusing on Transformers. They had one as recently as three months ago before it was covered up by an "Avengers" painting. A long time ago, they had an "Armada" sign made of reflective plastic and foam-core which, when disposed of in the trash may or may not have been rescued by an intrepid fan remaining in storage to this day.
Walking through this Toys R Us became more and more difficult as the years went along. When it first opened there were not as many attractions and tourists had not yet made it a point to visit this store. However over time the store rose in popularity, and the foot traffic that resulted was, to put it mildly, insane. Since people were there to participate in activities and take pictures, you didn't have your normal flow through a toy store where people pick things up off shelves and just buy them. Try to walk a straight line and you'd probably run into at least five people taking various pictures of the store, each other or both. As annoying as this sounds, it's hard to blame them. The displays were impressive and there was a sense of grandeur that no other Toys R Us I have ever visited could match. As many times as I saw Superman trying to stop a truck hanging off the ceiling or the giant T-Rex from Jurassic Park roaring its head off, it always touched me deep inside. It really did make me feel like a kid again for brief moments, and that is a magical thing.
Despite being one of the biggest attractions drawing in tourists and locals alike the rent for this space was astronomical. According to Fortune Magazine the rent had doubled in the 15 years Toys R Us originally signed for, going as high as $2,500 per square foot on one floor. Keep in mind Toys R Us rented three floors, making the overall rent unsustainable. A similar fate befell the even more iconic F.A.O. Schwarz store on 57th street in Manhattan earlier this year. Reportedly the Gap will be moving into part of this space while Toys R Us tries to find a new location in Manhattan.
The Final Days
I visited this Toys R Us several times in its last couple of weeks of business. A couple of those times were to take pictures, other times were to see if there were any good sales. It was sad to see shelves slowly being depleted of stock, clearance signs, toys torn out of packaging and just left discarded on shelves and entire sections of the store being roped off. My last visit was the day before the store closed and I took a video of the Jurassic Park T-Rex and it was uncharacteristically quiet and subtle in its movements and sounds. It was as if it knew this was its final days and it was going to take it easy before its swan song. It was the first time ever that instead of being awed by the T-Rex, I felt empathy for it. I said goodbye, put away my camera and walked out with a heavy sigh as I let the Exit door close behind me.