Toys ‘R’ Us

Like a game of Yu-Gi-Oh, no one can predict the future

Artwork by Mathew Philip Artwork by Mathew Philip

In 1948, Charles Lazarus opened a baby furniture store in Washington DC

As a child, the girl’s closest Toys R Us store was in Bankstown Home—an expansive sprawl of chain stores and parking spaces on the intersection of Canterbury and Chapel Road. Toys R Us was wedged at the back beside Supercheap Auto and the Good Guys. After a few years, Babies R Us would spring up on one side and a new computer store on the other.

In 1957, Charles Lazarus opened the first ever Toys R Us store.

Mama would take the girl and her brother to Toys R Us on special occasions; birthdays or Christmas. She bought them a GameCube—mainly as a reward for her brother after he made it into the OC. The console came with two games: Super Smash Bros Melee and Lord of the Rings: The Third Age.

It was at Toys R Us that Mama bought them their first Yu-Gi-Oh! decks. The girl was eight years old at that time, and Yu-Gi-Oh! was causing an uproar at her school. Kids were haggling over cards and playing matches on the asphalt at recess and lunch.

The girl and her brother would wake up every morning at 7:20am, waiting for Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters to air. She had always hated Dan and Pip, the zany hosts of Toasted TV, who were constantly chewing into the anime’s time
slot with their whacky dares and jaunts around the Gold Coast’s various theme parks. But then, always—

“…It’s time,” exclaimed Yami Yugi, “to d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-duel!”

The girl’s favourite card was the spell card, Scapegoat. She found the four fluffy creatures adorable, with their curling horns and mouths tilted upwards in gormless smiles. She loved Change of Heart second best, because the girl in the drawing had such pretty wings, and then Kuriboh, the small, furred one-star monster.

When the Yu-Gi-Oh! tournaments began, Mama took the girl and her brother back to Toys R Us. The tournaments took place early on Saturday mornings, attracting gatherings of around thirty young duellists. When the girl went, she was one of the youngest, and the only girl.

In 1965, Geoffrey the Giraffe became the corporation’s mascot.

The girl was directed to a table, occupied by a boy wearing glasses and a serious expression. He sighed when she sat down.

“Hi,” she said, smiling nervously. “I’m eight. I’ve never been to these tournaments before.”

“I’m Edwin Chu,” he replied while shuffling his deck. “I’m 11. I’ve been here three times.”

“Oh, cool.”

“Yeah.”

Edwin drew five cards from his deck.

“Last time, a girl came as well,” he said abruptly. “She was called Rebecca or something. No one really wanted to verse her, but one of the staff brought her over to me. I beat her before half the time was up.”

“Oh.” The girl looked down at the cards in her hand.

“Ladies first,” said Edwin.

She placed Baby Dragon on the field, facedown in defence mode. The duel began.

Australia’s first Toys R Us opened in September 1993. As time passed, more outlets opened nationwide, all bearing that bright colourful logo—red, orange and green lettering with the blue backwards ‘R’ punched through with a star.

Edwin tributed two of his monsters, and placed the Red Eyes Black Dragon down on the field.

“Ha! You have just activated my trap card,” said the girl.

She was hoping that Edwin would laugh or look shocked, but his expression didn’t change at all. She revealed the card—Shadow Spell. His Red Eyes Black Dragon would lose 700ATK, and be unable to attack or change its battle position.

“Um, should I put the card on top of yours so we—”

“Just leave it on your side of the field,” he said, waving her away. “It’s fine. We’ll both remember that it’s in play.”

“Right. Okay.”

It was her turn now. She took a deep breath, mustering up her belief in the heart of the cards, and drew. Blue Eyes White Dragon.

“I summon the Blue Eyes White Dragon in attack mode,” she said, slamming it onto the field with a flourish. “Now, Blue Eyes, attack the—”

“You can’t just play the Blue Eyes White Dragon,” Edwin interrupted. “It’s an eight-star monster. You need to tribute three monsters to play it. You don’t even have three monsters on the field!”

“Oh. Okay… I didn’t know that…”

“You don’t know the basic rules?” Edwin stared at her.

“Um, I don’t really play with strict rules or anything when I verse my brother or my friends. But um, anyway. I’ll just put a monster facedown in defence mode.”

In September 2017, the US branch of Toys R Us filed for chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection. In March 2018, it was announced that all 800 US stores and all 100 UK stores would close.

The girl had 200 life points left, but had managed to delay her imminent demise with Swords of Revealing Light, preventing Edwin’s monsters from acting for three turns. Then a bell rang out.“Time’s up, note down your scores and swap partners!”

yelled one of the tournament staff.

The girl looked across at Edwin. “I guess it’s a draw then,” she said brightly.

His expression was sullen as he stood up and packed away his deck. He turned and walked to another table without another glance.

Toys R Us (Australia) Pty Ltd entered voluntary administration in May 2018. After failing to attract buyers, its stocks were liquidated. “Toys R Us is Toys R Bust,” read a headline in the Queensland Times.

“Did you win any games?” Mama asked her after the tournament.

“No.”

“Do you want to go back next Saturday? Your brother does.”

The girl clutched her Yu-Gi-Oh! cards to her chest. She did not know, then, that in two years’ time, she would grow bored of the game. That her brother would sell her cards to his high school classmates and they would all be gone, even the ones she loved best. That eventually, Toys R Us would become a wasteland—a field of panicked parents squirrelling offcuts from bare shelves.

“Definitely,” she said, thinking of Swords of Revealing Light. “It was so fun.”

***

On 5 August 2018, all 44 Toys R Us outlets in Australia closed down. That night at 7pm, Toys R Us Australia made its last farewell on its Facebook page. It was a picture of Geoffrey the Giraffe against a green background, his head peeking out over a final message: “DON’T EVER GROW UP!”