For my family, visits to Toys R Us usually took place around Christmas time. Since it was invariably freezing, this first meant being wrapped up by fussy parents in the cheapest and scratchiest of woolly hats, gloves and scarves.
My Toys R Us was on Old Kent Road in south east London. It has a stupidly big car park, and was opposite a sofa-store which changed its name every few years.
The store itself was as well-lit as a supermarket, but instead of cabbages, the shelves were lined with colourfully-packaged toys.
On a street with few constants, Toys R Us has remained ever present. Now, though, the firm is filing for bankruptcy in the US and Canada. UK branches will not be affected for now, but the trends behind its demise are international – the growth of online retailers at the expense of traditional toyshops.
Each year at Toys R Us is different as each is defined by a different set of best-sellers – the toys which defined my childhood are unlikely to define yours.
Here is a retrospective catalogue of my Toys (and yes, they deserve capitalisation):
Perhaps my most treasured toy. Beyblades were in essence glorified spinning tops.
The hit TV show about them however, made them anything but.
On the show, teenagers would battle their spinning tops, which for some reason were possessed by ancient magical monsters, against each other.
These battles on TV would last for multiple (surprisingly emotional) episode arcs. Alas, in the real world battles with friends would be scuppered by the laws of physics and last no longer than 30 seconds.
Not so with the remote-controlled Beyblade. An electric motor provided an extra minute or so of flight time.
It was wild.
At aged eight years old, I thought Furbies were stupid. I was wise beyond my years.
Trips to Toys R Us inevitably also meant buying something for my younger sister. I would choose the ugliest looking doll from the shelves to annoy her. She was always annoyed.
4. Talking Buzz Lightyear
A toy which I will always remember as it led me to the epiphany that Santa Claus wasn’t real. How did I figure it out? The Christmas tag was written by someone who had the distinctive handwriting of my father. I for one, am not looking forward to Toy Story 4.
5. Yu-Gi-Oh Cards
Yu-Gi-Oh was a card game about magical monsters that actually required a lot of strategy. It was cool to like them for a bit. Then we quickly realised that those who were actually good at the game were the losers and should be made fun of.
I was one of those losers.
The first birthday present I ever bought my sister (with my hard earned birthday money, no less). She didn’t care for it. Who did?
As much as all these playthings, Toys R Us itself has defined a specific part of childhood for millions. But for those growing up in the US however, that may not be the case any longer.