Once a fixture of the toy industry, Toys R Us has filed for bankruptcy and is in the process of liquidation, according to a statement on the company’s website earlier this month.
The longtime toyseller announced its plans to close all 735 of its U.S. stores, including four locations in the Austin area. The liquidation will mean the loss of jobs for over 30,000 employees nationwide.
Marketing professor Rajashri Srinivasan said the shutdown could be blamed on online shopping through outlets like Amazon.
Srinivasan said another reason is how niche the toy industry is, with a limited customer base. However, that base is also dwindling as children increasingly forego physical toys in favor of devices like iPads, Srinivasan said, pointing to other retailers who have been feeling the effects of e-commerce for decades now.
“This has been a been slow and inexorable process, many years in the making,” Srinivasan said. “People are calling it a retail apocalypse. This is just getting a lot more attention, because Toys R Us is an American icon.”
As Toys R Us began to decline, local toy stores were watching the industry carefully to prevent the same mistakes as the major retailer.
The Austin-based shop Toy Joy, which first opened in 1987 on the Drag, recently opened a second store downtown. Toy Joy manager and partner Robby Pettinato said he chalked the decline of Toys R Us up to an inability to provide a good experience.
Pettinato said he was an avid fan of the toy retailer growing up, when in its heyday typical features of the stores included many employees and large-scale displays.
“It became kind of just like a sad toy warehouse, which is not what people remember it being,” Pettinato said. “Everything you can get there you can get at Amazon, and there’s no better experience.”
Pettinato credits Toy Joy’s own success to its “vibe of whimsy, color and chaos” and carefully curated atmosphere, which include quirky collectibles, charismatic employees and an intimate setting .
“My entire premise on how to run this business is basically do everything Toys R Us wasn’t doing,” Pettinato said. “People actually want to come to our store. A 6-year-old girl should walk in and have fun, and so should a 70-year-old dude, and they should tell their friends how much fun they had.”
But for many, Toys R Us represents the end of an era.
Plan II freshman Riley Gsanger said she remembers making trips to the store with her brothers, where she was remembers being overwhelmed by all the toys before her.
“It was amazing to get to go and pick out a toy,” Gsanger said. “Toys R Us was an experience every kid should be able to get, and that now a lot of kids won’t get to have.”