Welcome to Thursday, SpaceBrewers. On this historic Veteran’s Day, I’d like to salute all of you who served our country in war and at peace, past and present. Thank you all for your time, service and selflessness. God bless you and your families.
I’d also like to remind you that this is National Toy and Breast Appreciation Week, so every column this week has been about toys. We figure we cover breasts enough here on the site. They don’t need a special week devoted to them. Actually, I… Never mind. So Monday I wrote about the new toys with which I find myself playing. I wrote Tuesday about the age of growing out of playing with toys (which I haven’t apparently reached yet), and Haycomet wrote yesterday about her daughter and how she doesn’t play with toys anymore either.
So in today’s column, I’d like to talk about the magic of the Toys Store. Then we’ll wrap up the week tomorrow talking about what we played with as children in a special edition of Bacon Talk.
I think of the term ‘toy store’ as just a euphemism. It’s just another set of words strung together that means “land of magic”. When I went to the toy store as a kid, I remember being assaulted by all the colors, smells and sounds of the toy store, and loving it. There was always a sort of buzz in the air. An electricity that radiated through the aisles and made your heart beat a little faster. And it’s neat to go into toy stores today, being a man in my mid-forties, and still feeling a little bit of that magic buzz. I still get excited about looking at toys – imagining getting to play with them – even though I never will again.
One of my fondest memories is of a time when I was around seven or eight and my buddy Aaron and I heard about a contest where you could win a five-minute shopping spree at Toys R Us. That meant five minutes of running through aisles just loading up baskets. You know how many toys you could grab in a five-minute period? Whew. I used to spend time imagining how I would do it. What strategies would I use to make sure I made the best use of my time? Which toys would I grab first? In what order would I grab them to ensure the most toy would fit in the basket? And what if I run out of time and I haven’t gotten to the G.I. Joe figures yet? See, there was a lot of planning involved to make sure you were ready just in case you won.
We had Toys R Us, Toys By Roy, the toy section at Walmart was always pretty good, and – well, that’s all I can remember. Let’s check in with Haycomet for just a quick second. Tell us, Comet, what was your favorite toy store growing up?
There was a little toy store located in a strip mall in the town that bordered mine. I don’t remember the name, but I remember it smelled like new carpet and new toys. I was four or five when my parents took me there for the first time. Cabbage Patch Kids had just been released to stores and I was allowed to choose one.
I frequented that store. Though I was young, I would save up my birthday money to buy cool stuff- usually color-by-number kits. My favorite part of my visits was buying stickers. They had a sticker club to which I belonged, and I was given a new sticker every month. I haven’t seen a toy store like that since. It was small but very cool.
Hell yes. That sounds awesome. I loved stickers too. One of my favorite stickers is a big square one that says “I collect stickers” on it. Toys and tech has changed so much these days that I don’t know if you could even find stickers at a toy store anymore.
One dream-come-true that ended up being a letdown to me is the Lego store. A store that sells nothing but Lego. Every color, shape and size! The problem is that it’s boring as hell. Who’s gonna buy Lego one at a time? They have huge bins on the wall in back that are separated by color – every color you can imagine. And a cupful is like eight bucks. I mean, I guess if you wanted a set of nothing but 2×3 orange blocks that would be your store, but it would cost a fortune.
Another bad thing is the sets they sell. They’re all sponsored by Star Wars or Indiana Jones or Caterpillar. What happened to a big bin of just generic standard Lego? I think they had a small one there, like a hundred assorted pieces, but it was like eighty bucks. No joke. Every set now makes one thing – sponsored or not – like a jet or a dune buggy or a truck, but there are no generic assorted sets. Even at the Lego store!
Toy stores have definitely changed with the times, and I’m not entirely happy with all of it. I miss the old local family-owned hobby shops where I could buy parts for my train set. There may be one or two of those left in the country. Every good toy store is now in a mall, which means they have exorbitant overhead costs they pass directly on to you. About as close as I can get to a great toy store these days and still feel all that nostalgia is a place in a mall nearby called Game Chest. They sell everything games. Puzzles, Magic The Gathering cards, D&D books, figures and dice, and tons of games and game pieces like chess sets, poker chips, and dominoes. It feels terrible when you walk out of there without spending any money. Which is why I never do. But places like that don’t stay in business long because a set of dice costs you nine bucks and a pack of cards is like five. And people don’t usually go in there to spend a hundred bucks. Sadly they probably sell a few cards and a book or two a day. No one can survive on that.
With the passing of the toys stores of our generation, I sure would like to open my own. As big as Toys R Us but cozy as a mall store. Carpeted floors and dim warm lighting. Forget the bikes and skateboards – just toys. Every one of every series you could think of. We wouldn’t sell Yoda without selling Boba Fett. No Destro without Quick Kick. If we carried any of a brand we would carry all of that brand. And we’d somehow make it affordable to kids on chore allowances and lemonade stand wages. We would have old hunchback elderly men walking the aisles helping the kids find what they want, handing out stickers and smiles. And the best part? There would be an adult-sitting area up front where the kids could leave their parents while they go shopping. No one wants pesky parents hanging around in the toy store.
But times have changed, toys have changed and so have the stores. This should be all the more reason to get that time machine up and running: take me back to 1983, and set the destination to that one great place I will never forget. You know the one: the spot on a map where a kid’s eyes get wide and his heart beats faster as excitement begins to come alive: the entrance to the greatest place on earth. All troubles forgotten for even a little while, and there is no bedtime. The only time you have to worry about is the hour it closes. Take me back to the Toy Store.