This 2012 article originally appeared on Kev Kage's personal Tumblr, Things My Kids Won't Know, and is republished here by permission from the author. Like Kev, I remember going to Toys"R"Us frequently to buy video games as a kid growing up in the 1990s. This post is a reminder of the company's odd retail store strategy over the years, given the news that Toys"R"Us filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this week.
In 1999, Toys''R''Us was the #2 retailer for video games software in the United States. Today, the company has a market share of less than 1%.
Looking back, buying video games at Toys"R"Us was a magical, yet strangely cumbersome experience. If you remember this unique system at all, as Kev describes below, share your memories about it with us in the comments.
Buying a video game is a pretty great experience. I don’t do it often, so when I do, it feels like a big event. Walking in to the video game aisle, locating a particular title, and knowing that I’ll be home enjoying it in a few moments is one of the finer things in life.
See, I’m an adult now, and adults are allowed to buy video games whenever they want. Even though I have technically been an adult for twelve years, this power is something that still hasn’t gotten old to me.
As good as the experience is, it was even more exhilarating when I was younger. To explain why, we have to journey back in time to a very special place, a place that was for many years the mecca of Nintendo software.
Toys"R"Us, or TRU as my buddy Matt often refers to it, was the place to be when it came to video games. There were other stores like Babbages and Funcoland, but none of them touched TRU in its prime. A toy store was an incredible place in general, but when you went to the video game section in TRU, you knew you were in for something special.
The aisles seemed to go on forever, and practically any game you could think of was represented. I use the word “represented” because the actual games weren’t there, but unlike today, neither were the boxes.
Instead, you had a picture of the box art, and underneath it was a packet of slips. The slip had the name of the game, its price, and a barcode on it. If the packet was empty, as it sometimes was, that meant the game was sold out. It was a not a good feeling.
If a slip was there, you were in. You’d bring the slip up to the cashier who would scan it and take your money. But the transaction didn’t end there. Cashiers obviously couldn’t keep all of the games at their registers, so you had to take another step.
Beyond the registers was this walled-off room. It looked like a place that you would buy burgers and fries from at the beach, but bigger. There was only one window, which was there so the employee could talk to customers. You couldn’t really see inside until you were up close, but if you were tall enough to see over the counter, you’d get a peek of the greatest sight imaginable – a room filled with wall-to-wall Nintendo games.
You could see the room as soon as you walked into the store, so if it was one of those days when you weren’t buying a video game, the room would taunt you the whole time you were there.
If you were buying one though, oh man. You’d take that little slip up to the counter and hand it over to the employee, who (at the time) seemed like the most powerful person in the universe. They would retire into the deep recesses of that room for what felt like forever, before they finally emerged with the game you had chosen. It was magic.
I imagine that if things were still like this today, I’d be furious about having to take that extra step, and I’d be complaining about it for sure. But for some reason that process impressed the heck out of me when I was little. I guess after working in a video store a room full of video games doesn’t seem all that spectacular. I wish it did.
It was probably all the anticipation that made it so amazing. Service Merchandise made even the lamest purchases seem completely awesome because everything you bought came down a conveyor belt to get to you.
As someone makes almost all of his decisions in life based on convenience, I’m definitely glad that things are easier now. Some stuff is better off being polished by selective memory and staying in the past.
And isn’t that truly great? We can make even awful things into good memories. There’s no such thing as bad nostalgia.
Follow the author Kev Kage on Twitter: @realkevkage