The bankruptcy and closure of the Toys “R” Us empire, after seventy years in business, has shaken me to the core with less hyperbole than some might think. I’ve written about my love of both miniature toy cars and also scale models before, but before all of this recent news, I hadn’t given much though about the source of many such purchases. Concurrent with the passing of business founder Charles P. Lazarus at age ninety-four this past Thursday (on March 22, 2018), just days after the start of store liquidation was announced, it feels like a huge chunk of my childhood has literally just died.
Matchbox and Hot Wheels miniatures will always be fun, relatively inexpensive, and collectible, but the larger cars and model kits held for me a different, more special kind of appeal. I have spent a lot of time photographing things while laying flat on the ground, on my stomach. I think my fearlessness to do so might have stemmed from having imagined my 1:24-scale Corgi Porsche 911 was actually my car, while I eyed it from the floor. The larger scale of this toy, combined with the physical dimensions of my head and placement of my eyes made it easy to imagine, with my cheek pressed against the cool linoleum of my bedroom floor, that I was the owner of an actual Porsche.
Up to a certain age, the Toys “R” Us on Linden Road in Flint Township was the first place I would want to head after any given birthday or Christmas. Even when I became a bored, somewhat restless teenager, my friends and I had wandered through that Toys “R” Us a few times, just because it made all of us feel so good. (And doing so was free.) After snaking through the weird, labyrinth-like entrance, my friends and I would head almost immediately to the scale models and just browse… for at least twenty minutes or so. The girls in our group didn’t seem to mind too much, though usually Jen or Liv would have to prod Fred and I to leave the store, head back to Fred’s ’76 Nova coupe, and onto our next destination.
In a sense, one could say that Toys “R” Us, from my youngest, childhood buying experiences, became my first, virtual “car dealership” experience. Looking at all the sealed boxes constituted the test drive, with only so much of my savings or allowance to spend, depending on how each kit was “optioned”. I never got to share the Toys “R” Us experience with any of the young ones in the next wave of Dennises, and that grieves me. I do know, though, that many of them did get to go, themselves, so they will hopefully be able to share with the next generation about the giddy, utter joy of what it used to be like to shop for toys in an actual, brick-and-mortar store. May Mr. Lazarus’ family and loved ones be comforted in this time, and thank you, Mr. Lazarus, for being, however indirectly, such a happy part of my American childhood.
Downtown & Uptown, Chicago, Illinois.
Friday, January 29, 2010.