Not too long ago, my husband showed me an old advertisement celebrating a new Toys “R” Us store opening in Toronto and nearby satellite cities. The lucky children of 1984 who attended the ribbon-cutting could meet Geoffrey, Garfield, Snoopy, some loser Care Bear, and the one and only MISTUH TEE.
The ad still makes me wonder if the Toys “R” Us I frequented as a kid is amongst the venues opened at this event. That very same Toys “R” Us is still standing, and as far as I know, it does decent business. I have a pretty good memory, and I can’t remember a time when the store wasn’t there. So I can assume it opened in ’84. Maybe even earlier.
Maybe this is a petty, silly thing to say, but it’s an unusual privilege to have one of your childhood staples loom large through your adult years – especially when you live in a big, ever-changing city. My special and eternal Toys “R” Us is where I bought my NES, much of my NES library, my SNES, and much of that library.
See, Canadian retail is a weird animal. The enormous failure of Target is one indication that we’re not quite as retail-aggressive as our southern cousins. Moreover, we pay more taxes, we live more modestly, and shit just costs a lot more up here. So the few ginormous box store imports that eventually made it up here took their time doing so.
This is my long-winded way of saying there was no Wal-Marts here when I was of NES-playing age. Nor was there many EB Games / Gamestop locations, or independent game stores. If I wanted a game, I went to the aforementioned Toys “R” Us.
Strangely enough, even though I bought several games at that Toys “R” Us, there’s only one purchase I remember the specific details of: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I wanted an NES game for some birthday or another, and my mother looked at the prices ($80+, plus tax) and said “lol.” But I noticed Castlevania III was on sale for $20, and being a big fan of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, I said “Please?”
Best purchase, imo.
These days, Toys “R” Us has separate sections for its games and systems. These areas are equipped with cameras and anti-theft beepers, which theoretically makes it difficult to stuff Skylanders up your shirt and take off. But when I was a kid, purchasing a game from Toys “R” Us was a real solemn, multi-tiered event.
You looked at pictures of game boxes on hooks and made your decision. Then you slipped the relevant plastic number tag off the hook, and presented it to a person sitting in a little glass booth with airholes thoughtfully punched in the side.
Okay, so the holes were for vocal interaction, not breathing. Still, I like to imagine the glass was bulletproof. This was a real solemn corner of the store, and it served a very important purpose.
You presented your tag, and you got your game. Or your game system. Oh, man.
I don’t want to go on about how buying games was a damn ceremony when I was young, and how regretful I am that kids today will never experience it because cheap / free / downloadable games make the pastime seem more disposable.
Oh, crap. I just went on, didn’t I?
The point is, regardless of how the games industry has changed over the decades, I’m glad such an important part of my personal game history is still standing.
And, in a way, buying NES cartridges at Toys “R” Us actually did cheapen the sacred novelty of buying video games. We bought our Atari games at Consumers Distributing, and man, was that ever a song and dance.