Howdy folks, and Merry Christmas! Today we’re taking a quick peek at a Toys ‘R Us “flagship” location inside of a Macy’s. While not a true TRU location, it’s as close as we’re going to get for now. So let’s take some time to reflect on Toy Stores over the years. So first off, let us start with the ultimate question, where do toy stores come from in the first place? Well, like many other modern American staples, such as the steam engine, the seed drill, and even our modern democracy, modern toy stores have roots have their roots in 1700s England. A toy store by the name of Hamley’s opened in London in 1760 and is still in operation to this day. While not the first toy retailer, Hamley’s is considered by most to be the first toy store. Hamley’s eventually evolved into a 7-story toy department store. Around the same time, FAO Schwarz would take on a similar role in the United States. While their claim to being the oldest toy retailer in the U.S. is a bit weaker, their impact was undoubtedly just as large. The concept would spread to other cities, although on a much more limited scale. Some of Houston’s first toy sellers were department stores, like Aklemeyer’s, which had their entire fifth floor dedicated to toys. Around the turn of the century, specialized toy stores like Koehler’s would pop up in Houston. For the better part of the century, this is how toy stores would operate in Houston. Small outposts, independently owned, usually parked in town squares, transitioning to larger spaces and eventually malls as the times demanded. However, around this time, things would begin to change. With the advent of malls, boutique chains began to grow, and one of the easiest sales was toy stores. The recent Baby Boom provided ample economic push to do so, and toy store chains began to grow, with Kay-Bee being an early and prominent name.
Just as quickly as toy stores would move into malls, they would move right back out into the ever-growing Shopping Center trend. Chains like Toys ‘R Us, Kid’s Kounty, Lionel’s Play World, and Children’s Palace would all open during this time. The expansion of toy stores became so prevalent that chains would begin to wipe each other out. In an apparent race to the top, Toys ‘R Us became dominant, emphasizing Walmart-style expansion and upgrades. Toys would also become commonplace in more types of stores, with Sears signing an exclusive deal with Disney in the late 80s to merchandise their characters. By the 90s, almost only TRU was left, with the rest of the market being dominated by discount department stores, which had ever-increasing toy departments. Toys ‘R Us, however, remained profitable, focusing on keeping a broad selection of merchandise and increasing their Babies ‘R Us presence. Unfortunately, TRU’s profitability did not maintain, falling victim to further divided market share, with multiple theories on what the root cause was still being prevalent to this day. When Toys ‘R Us shut down its American retail operations, the company stressed that they were not going away for good, and that was proved true by the return and exit of two brick-and-mortar stores. Also, Toys ‘R Us store within a store concept has been quite well received and has a growing presence. Unfortunately, the future doesn’t seem to hold the familiar rainbow-clad buildings of our collective youth. It’s nice to know that you can still relive a bit of childhood this Christmas.
I remember Toys R Us, which is still around as a big box store in Canada, Childrens Palace, Playhouse Toys, Circus World, Kay-Bee Toys, and a few others who were around in Houston. Stores like Best Products sold a lot of toys as well. For me, my favorite toy store was Radio Shack! Of course, they had regular toys, but as someone who played around with electronics as a kid, even the ‘adult’ stuff at Radio Shack ended up as my toys.