Photographing a dying Toys "R" Us with a toy film camera
Three months ago, the iconic kid’s retail chain Toys "R" Us announced it was going under, hucking a devastating blow to American youth. Photographer Samantha Keller felt it too, and brought her toy film camera to see it go.
TOYS WERE US
Founded by Charles Lazarus in 1957, Toys "R" Us went on to become one of the most recognizable brands in childhood history. The initial store, opened in the Maryland suburbs near Lazarus’ hometown of Washington, single-handedly set in motion the “year-round toy” fad and would grow to over 800 stores nationwide (and close to 800 outside of the U.S.) — until March 15, 2018, when it all collapsed.
For the past several months, each store in America — the ones that helped raise so many children while tired parents hung out around the checkout lines — put their inventory on super sale to say goodbye. They leave behind empty shells that were once connectors to nostalgia, a visual obeisance of a world forever changed by the Internet.
In 2004, Toys “R” Us began a partnership with the Toys for Tots foundation, a program run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve that distributes toys to kids who don’t have access to them. Since the relationship began, Toys “R” Us donated over $55 million and gave away over 4 million toys to children in need.
“How did it feel seeing it was closing? It’s strange, but isn’t the end of the world. I did get lost there once and did that whole ‘neck craning’ thing shuffling up and down the aisles. You know, where you’re playing it cool but also fucking terrified of what’s going to happen to you when your parents just leave without you?”
-Jered M., 25
The closing of Toys “R” Us won’t impact just the people tied directly to the stores. Toy company executive Isaac Larian believes it will have a “devastating effect” and the fallout could see more than 130,000 workers lose jobs. “People do not realize the hole that can’t be filled by other retailers,” said Larian on an unsuccessful GoFundMe page that hoped to save the retailer.
“It’s sad I won’t be able to take my kids there. It’s ‘evil consumerism’ or whatever, but I have a lot of good memories there. Now all kids want to do is watch YouTube though, so, they won’t really know what they’re missing.”
-Ezra P., 30
“It’s not such a sad thing, seeing it go. Of course I never got to go, there wasn’t one very close to where I grew up. The rich kids could go. I couldn’t. They’re all lawyers now or something.”
-Sara L., 27
“Yeah, fuck, that was pretty upsetting to see (it close). I’d play there a lot when my parents just wanted me to run around. I also got caught stealing a Polly Pocket when I was 6, my first and only time shoplifting. I saw what real wrath looked like that day.”
-Molly M., 34