Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I miss this place
With the news of KB Toys closing I started to reflect on the state of the "toy store" and it made me sad to think about these specialty stores disappearing. How awesome was Child World, for example? I mean, the goddamn building was a castle! The place just screamed, "The Disney World of toy retail!" We never realized how good we had it until it disappeared. In fact, we had one in Seekonk and one on Taunton (Newport Ave), that's two Child World toy stores within 5 miles of one another.
Child World, Founded 1974 and Closed 1992
Other lost toy retail,
Apex was awesome because the building was awesome. I mean, look at this damn place, it's a pyramid of dreams. Okay, the reality is that the store pretty much sucked but it was one of the places where we were able to locate the precious, and by then discontinued, Super Powers figures, the greatest action figure line ever created. This place also represents freedom to me - we were finally able to go on toy hunts because you earned your driver's license. For the first time we could say, "Let's go here, and then we'll go there..." Come to think of it, we did this as recently as a month ago.
Apex, Founded 1924 and Closed 2000
Ann and Hope, where I screwed up putting my initials in Jungle Hunt and 20 years later I'm still trying to live it down (JPX, damnit!). Ann and Hope was the only game in town when we were really young and it was a big outing in my household to go shopping there. It was the next best thing to Child World and generally well stocked with toy goodies. The "damaged" cart items was a favorite of mine - toys sold cheaper because the packaging was damaged, and it didn't take too long to figure out that you could do some of your own "toy damaging" to get the price knocked down on a desired item. I acquired many Star Wars figures there and a few video games.
Ann and Hope, Founded 1953 and Closed 2001
Ben Franklin is where I purchased my first Star Wars action figure (Darth Vader). It was such a random store and you never knew what you would find there. It was like a flea market disguised as a store. The joint was generally over-priced (Darth was like $3.50 at a time when everyone else had it for $2.50) but still it was a toy store in our home town and that wasn't a dreaded "educational" toy store masquerading as a fun place for kids.
Ben Franklin, Founded 1927 and Closed 1996
Ah, Lechmere. First the name, Lechmere, just sounds gross, like "Leech". Second, the truth of the matter is that the toy section was pretty weak - although we found NME there so it gets some points. It's also where we purchased those horrible pleather jackets, so it does hold a soft spot in my heart. Nothing spectacular but another retail store that was part of my (late) childhood and no longer exists.
Lechmere, Founded 1948 and Closed 1997
Caldor - I always want to call it Caldors, which rolls off the tongue more easily. Like Lechmere, Caldor(s!) was nothing special. In fact, it was so non-descript I'm actually having difficulty conjuring up any specific Caldor-related memories. Still, it's another example of a lost retail/toy option. I've started to notice that toy selection is shrinking and aside from Toys R Us (still the best) there are very few options. I'm worried about the state of toy retail and I fear that most of our future purchases are going to be at conventions or online where we will have to pay a premium.
Caldor, Founded 1951 and Closed 1999
Ames was another non-descript Caldore-like retail store. Occasionally I'd find some good stuff there such as some Star Trek Playmates action figures. The last time I was in an Ames was 1999. It was the height of Star Wars prequel fever and I purchased a Darth Maul on Speeder Bike for way too much money. Like K-Mart, Ames had the appearance of savings, with it's long rows of flourescent lights and no frills decor. Yet, the place was pretty damn expensive.
Ames, Founded 1958 and Closed 2002
Man, remember Zayre? I barely remember this chain although I know there must have been one near one of the places I lived (Geneva, New York?) because I recall looking for toys there once in a while. Actually, I believe this is where I found the rare Galoob Star Trek action figures. There's nothing special about Zayre - it's just another example of a place to hunt for toys that no longer exists. I want to call it "Zayers".
Zayre, Founded 1956 and Closed 1990
Bradlees was another one of those non-descript retail outlets that had an okay toy aisle. Bigger than Ames and Caldor, Bradlees was a good place to look for toys if you also had 6 other places on your list to look that same day. You would never say, "Let's take a trip to Bradlees", rather you'd say, "I think there's a Bradlees on our way to Toys R Us, we might as well check it out." I am unable to provide a single Bradlees memory.
Bradlees, Founded 1958 and Closed 2000
I honestly can't recall whether or not I shopped at Woolworths. I believe there was one at the Warwick Mall. I thought I'd include it here because it goes along with the theme of closed retail.
Woolworths, Founded in 1878 and became Foot Locker in 2001
We love to make fun of it, but I'll be sad when this place inevitably disappears. Sure they never have anything of value and despite it's "Come in we're cheap" appearance it is nothing of the sort. Still, there's something very retro about Benny's and I find myself venturing in them occasionally in order to travel back to a time before the K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Target existed.
Benny's, Founded 1924 and Closed ???
Wow, when I started this editorial I never appreciated how many retail stores have closed over the past 20 years. Singularly none of these stores were very impressive (Child World excluded, of course), but taken as a whole they offered an arsenal of opportunities to find those rare toys we often sought. If we didn't find it at Ann and Hope, for example, chances are we would find it somewhere along the way given the many options at hand. It appears that the golden age for toy hunters was in the late 80s/early 90s. Searching for toys in 2009 is a bleak endeavor. Sure we always have Toys R Us (for now), but what else? Today we have very few places to locate desired treasures. Walmart, Target, and K-MART are pretty much the only game in town. However, as noted above these places seem to be limiting the amount of toy choices. Why is it, for example, that only Target carries Justice League Unlimited action figures? Of course I am thankful that we have The Toy Vault (3 of them!) but in some ways it takes the fun out of the "hunt". In the age of Ebay and specialty stores like The Toy Vault, it’s almost too easy to “collect”. True I love quickly filling holes in my collection but with that luxury also comes a feeling of malaise. I remember how excited I was when I finally completed the Super Powers collection after a 20-year pursuit. This elation quickly turned to a post partum feeling when I suddenly realized, “I have the whole collection, and there is nothing else to collect”. A paradox indeed.
I love you so much, Toy Vault!