Strange what makes us feel sad and old.

Did you hear that Toys ‘R Us is shutting down its operations? It’s closing or selling its 740 stores in the United States, as well as giving up its international operations, Canada included. No precise closing date has been set, but the on-line store will only be up and running for a few more weeks, and the company is expecting to be fully liquidated within a few months.

At first I didn’t really understand why the news of this closure made me so sad. The closest Toys ‘R Us is in Halifax and there are many other stores I spent more time in than that one. I haven’t even set foot in one in the past few years, since my toy-buying days dwindled when the kids got older. Like so many other shoppers, I have increasingly turned to the convenience of on-line shopping. After all, who wants to drive all the way to Halifax when a few minutes and a couple of clicks will deliver any item to my doorstep?

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My heartache over the closing of this iconic store has more to do with memories, with what it stands for, and with the toy store experience coming to an end.

In the late 1990s, when my oldest son was just a toddler, I remember standing in line in freezing, early-morning November weather, determined to score a Sing n’ Snore Ernie. I knew Santa Claus needed a little help that year because that toy was sold out everywhere, so I gladly took a Metro Transit bus from the downtown Halifax apartment where we lived, to the MicMac Mall in Dartmouth, where I was waiting (with about 100 others) as the delivery truck pulled in to a round of applause from all the tired, freezing parents. And Christmas morning, I was that much more satisfied watching him enjoy it, knowing the acquisition process.

Be assured that every parent in that line would’ve similarly sacrificed for Christmas 2017, except the waiting would have been far less, and it would have been done in pajamas and slippers in a warm house, probably shortly after 1 a.m. when the on-line inventory updated at midnight Eastern Standard Time. Because that’s what we do now, we shop from home.

I’m not even entirely sure if going to the toy store is a big deal for kids anymore….. is it? I have no idea. Once upon a time going to Toys ‘R Us was a special treat for kids. Every aisle was colourful and filled to the ceiling with every toy imaginable, and it was so massive you could spend hours wandering around. Every visit was a long visit because there was just so much to look at, even if the kids walked out with nothing. As a matter of fact, I don’t ever remember buying anything for either of my sons while we were in that store together, and it’s still the place both of them looked forward to going more than anywhere else. I bet you couldn’t find me a parent who could walk by without their kids begging to go inside. It was the toy store experience.

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. And I feel sorry for my future grandkids that they won’t ever get to have that.

Toys ‘R Us is not the only chain struggling or going under, of course. Just a few days ago, I read that Claire’s filed for bankruptcy protection and announced it would close its remaining stores by the end of April. As a little girl (who am I kidding – as a young woman, too) there were few things that could kill six hours quite as efficiently as browsing in a Claire’s store. If you didn’t get lost in the bracelets and scarves, you were rendered catatonic by the tiaras that were sparkling away in the locked display case.

There are too many others to list, sadly. The It Store, HMV, Sears, San Francisco, Morrison’s in St. Peter’s – all of these places provided experiences that can never be duplicated in 2018 and onward.

I’m not a big shopper, but I feel nostalgic watching symbols of my childhood, once giants of consumerism, falling to technology and declining shopping mall foot traffic. I wanted to take my grandkids to the toy store someday, to see them looking, with eyes wide as dinner plates, at the giant aisles of toys around them.

Strange what makes us feel sad and old.