A look into Houston's retail past

Geoffery’s Bargain Box of Toys: The Toys “R” Us Concept you probably never saw

On the heels of Toys “R” Us second departure from the Houston area (which I unfortunately have no photos of). I wanted to take a look at a store that TRU opened in Houston only months before their bankruptcy. You might be thinking, oh I already know all about Geoffrey’s Toy Box, however that was deployed post bankruptcy! You might even think, oh well duh everyone knows about the rural, child-sized Wal-Mart stores simply named Geoffrey (You should really check out those photos). Don’t be fooled though, the investment firm who ended up with TRU found one last way to wring of the neck of a beloved mascot with Geoffrey’s Bargain Box of Toys. This was a last-ditch effort by Toys “R” Us to raise funds prior to their bankruptcy. The concept was intended to serve as an outlet for “discount” merchandise which included a selection very similar to Toys “R” Us. The differences however were many, for one the stores used temporary racks and shelving, similar to what you would find in a Halloween Costume Conversion. Other costing saving measures included keeping the store minimally staffed, un-staged, not using displays, and limited signage. To save on costs TRU opened Geoffrey’s locations in existing stores, and only used a limited amount of space. Around 10,00 square feet or about the size of a small Dollar Store.

It seems that one of the first stores to open was a pilot location in Virginia, although I’m unable to find an address. Another location which you can see a video of was a reused Bed Bath and Beyond in Philadelphia Mills Mall which was open by Fall of 2017. A few other stores were underperforming locations that TRU had closed but not been able to sublet. Including a location in California, and one in New Jersey that would never end up opening. One other former TRU was converted to a Geoffrey’s Bargain Bin, however this was not done due to the lagging sales at the store. Rather, the Toys “R” Us location in Humble closed due to the flooding of the San Jacinto River during Hurricane Harvey on September 2nd, 2017. As you can see in this video the store had to be gutted and stripped down to the bare walls. After being forced to demolish the store, a race was on to get it back open before the Christmas shopping season. This location was prominent sitting right across the highway from Deerbrook Mall and had always been a popular stop for shoppers. It was one of the few full size toy stores in the area. The Geoffrey’s concept fit in perfectly and the new store opened in November just before the Black Friday shopping rush.

The store proved to be a hit with shoppers even after the Christmas season as seen in this review. Although the management stated the store intended to re-open the store later in 2018 as a mainline Toys “R” Us, this would never occur. Unlike the other Geoffrey’s locations which made it through various stages of bankruptcy, the Humble location closed sometime in January 2018. There was some intent to reopen the store as the vestibule and foundation underwent some renovations. It seems that the contractors stopped getting paid around the same time as the vendors and left the store in a torn apart state and stripped of anything valuable like lighting. In 2018 the city of Humble took possession of the property. Other than performing some basic maintenance like filling in open trenches and removing hanging insulation left by contractors the building has remained untouched since 2018. While the brand ultimately failed as a whole, this concept was definitely in the right place at the right time. Enjoy some photos of my shopping trip to the Humble, TX Geoffrey’s location!

 

Reader Comments

  1. Wow, this is awesome! I had never heard of this concept at all. I love reading about little-known or obscure pieces of retail history, especially ones from modern times since it’s getting rarer and rarer for things to be “hidden” these days (so to speak) from the internet. I was on the edge of my seat reading this post, haha.

    This TRU concept gives me some serious Fred’s vibes. I don’t know if you’ve seen my post on it, but right before Fred’s went bankrupt they, too, tried to pivot to a discount format called “Fred’s Discount Depot.” Only a handful of those opened, and of course they were all in existing Fred’s stores — some that had closed earlier in the year, others that were still open and converted over. It was intended to be the future of the company had they survived, but they ultimately wound up declaring bankruptcy and going out of business, much like TRU. I’ve not come across any other documentation of the concept besides my post on it. It’s really, really cool to see a similar story played out with Toys “R” Us.

    1. Retail Retell, I actually read your blog post about Fred’s Discount Depot just the other day. I didn’t know about that post, but I saw it thanks to the awesome random blog post link on the right hand side of your blog. I saw that pop up and I checked it out!

      Fred’s Discount Depot reminded me a bit of Wal-Mart’s experimentation with Bud’s Discount City stores in the early-to-mid 1990s. I went to Bud’s a few times in the old Tomball Wal-Mart building and they were really strange stores with very little organization. In some way, Bud’s was a bit of a cross between Fred’s Discount Depot and Fred’s Closeout Bonanza.

      If Fred’s Discount Depot was still around, I’d be tempted to call it ‘Fred’s Discount Deport’ since the merchandise had been deported from normal, full-price stores, lol.

      Speaking of Fred’s and Houston, I was once reading an article from 2003 about Kroger’s experimentation with dollar stores in a couple of their stores they acquired from Albertsons here in Houston. The dollar stores went in the old Albertsons Garden Centers. The FM 1960 W & N. Eldridge Krogertsons was one that had a Kroger Dollar Store in around 2003. Anyway, that article was talking about the proliferation of dollar/’dollar’ stores in Houston in around 2003 and mentioned that Fred’s had locations in Houston. I really don’t remember Fred’s being here at all. Does anyone remember them being here and where their stores might have been location?

      On the topic of Geoffery’s Bargain Box of Toys, I think I remember Je of the Louisiana & Texas Retail blog mentioning this in a comment on his blog, but I don’t think I saw photos of this. When I see a toy store with concrete floors like this, I’m immediately reminded of Children’s Palace (sometimes called Child World in other markets) stores which were here in Houston in the 1980s and early 1990s. They were usually located in Trammell Crow’s ‘The Commons’ shopping centers like the one across I-45 from Greenspoint Mall (now a data center) and the still successful The Commons shopping center across FM 1960 W from Willowbrook Mall. The Children’s Palace there is now a Ross Dress for Less.

      The Children’s Palace wasn’t a clearance store, but back in those days concrete floors were quite rare in normal retailers and so it kind of had a clearance store feel to it compared to a Toys R Us. Maybe that’s why Toys R Us survived and Children’s Palace did not, I don’t know. Sportstown USA, a usual Children’s Palace neighbor in The Commons shopping centers, also had concrete floors, but they didn’t quite feel as much like a clearance store for whatever reason.

      On the topic of Children’s Palace and clearance stores, at some point in the mid-1990s, the closed Children’s Palace at the Greenspoint The Commons was turned into a temporary book clearance store that I visited while probably visiting the neighboring Computer City Superstore. It wasn’t unusual in those days for there to be traveling clearance book stores that would set up shop in some closed retailer for a few weeks much the way that Halloween stores do now. That was a pretty awesome way to visit a closed retailer and see what artifacts were left behind.

      1. Ah, glad you enjoyed the post, and more importantly — glad someone is making use of that random post generator, haha! I added that at one point when I was bored and based it off of an idea I saw on someone else’s blog (not a retail blog), thinking it would be neat. I had to look up the code on how to install it. Most of the time it’s supposed to come with a little thumbnail of the first image in the post, but since a lot of my first images are just county graphics, I didn’t like it much that way. However, without them, the feature kinda gets lost, blending in there on the sidebar. Glad you’re getting some use out of it.

        Anyway, enough of that. Yeah, I’ve heard several things about Bud’s Discount City over the years. I would be very curious to learn more about where all those stores were located or to find pictures of any of them. Details and images are very sparse online. I’ll leave the rest of the comment for Mike to respond to, as I don’t think that was meant for me 🙂 (Although I will say those traveling clearance bookstores sound super cool!)

  2. Now this I didn’t know about, sounds like a good idea scuttled by Toys R Us’ myriad of other issues.

    A combination of this bare-bones/seasonal approach plus a handful of the vendor-funded “showroom” style stores like the one closed in the Galleria possibly could have successfully relaunched the brand if the timing was better. COVID is not a time to launch a retailer…

What do you think?