Saturday, April 7, 2018

Goodbye, Toys Я Us

For a while I thought that my beloved Toys 'R' Us store in South Portland would stay open while other branches around the nation closed...but it looks like all Toys 'R' Us locations are closing or being sold, and even the website has been shut down to future orders.  It's officially the end of an era.

I didn't want the occasion to pass without doing something, so I decided to take a few trips to the store and bask in the feeling of being in such a large space, entirely surrounded by toys.  I don't know when I might get that feeling again.

I visited two weeks ago (before the closeouts started) and then again this Friday.  I bought a few things that I'll review really quickly today, and a few other things that will get bigger reviews in the near future.  I'll mostly just pretend that you were there shopping with me, and show you what caught my eye as I wandered through the familiar aisles for the last time.

I'll start with a picture that I took last summer.  This is the temporary Toys 'R' Us that was set up in Times Square for the holidays:

Temporary Toys 'R' Us branch in Times Square, 2017.
I love the huge motto, "today we play," and the colorful decorations evocative of the New York subway:

My local store is a bit less picturesque, but it makes me happy nonetheless:

On my second trip, big signs like this were hung all over the store:

Of course the only things on this sign that caught my eye initially were the huge 30% off and the "nothing held back!"  This led me to assume that even American Girl items would be 30% off.  Silly me.  In fact, the fine print says, "up to 30% off," and from what I could tell, everything in the store was either 10% off or, in the case of construction sets (Lego), only 5% off.  Bummer.

Still, that meant that even during my most recent trip, the selection was still pretty good.

Let's rewind two weeks, though, and see what the shelves looked like then.  Here's the Spirit Riding Free display:

Spirit Riding Free display, before closeouts.
There were a bunch of the little flocked model horses (mostly Junipero–my favorite!) and all three of the large versions of the main characters.

I had never seen this set before, though, and it's great!  It's small Lucky with the Traditional series Breyer model of Spirit:

These two look really good together.  I was very tempted to buy this set, but I already have a similar version of Spirit from the original movie.

When I returned to Toys 'R' Us recently, the Spirit toys were 10% off and all of the blonde Abigail dolls were gone:

Spirit Riding Free display, at the start of closeout sale.
As I wandered around the store during my first visit, I found a few other interesting things.  The Shibajuku minis (Shiba-Cuties) have shown up on the shelves (before this, I'd only ever seen the larger dolls in stores):

And there were some 2nd wave large dolls, too:

Right next to the Shibajuku Girls, I spotted four new Project Mc2 dolls.  I haven't seen these anywhere else yet.

The new group includes Ember, McKeyla, Adrienne and Bryden, and my store had one of each doll.

Ember is dressed in a gilded jean skirt with a flowery leather jacket.  Her "science experiment" is a lip gloss kit:

Project Mc2

The last McKeyla doll I reviewed (Lava Lip Gloss) came with a lip gloss kit, too.  They seem to be running out of ideas.

Ember's face and hair are pretty, but her outfit has a lot going on and seems a bit disjointed.  I think there's a little bee on her belt, though, which is cute:

Project Mc2

I think the prettiest doll in the new group is McKeyla.  I like her maroon jacket and sequined mini dress:

Project Mc2

Her "experiment" is a cocoa bronzer.  Yikes.  I don't have anything nice to say about that.

I'm guessing from past experience that none of the ingredients for this project are included with the doll–just the plastic makeup case that's visible in the box.

Here's a better look at McKeyla:

If I had purchased one of these dolls, it would have been McKeyla.  She looks very appealing in the box.  However, the dolls are $26 and I've learned my lesson with them.

The new Adrienne is not at all appealing to me, although her experiment (making hair streak dye) looks like the most fun out of the whole group:

Project Mc2

From what I can see, though, the project involves crushing up your favorite eyeshadow and painting it on your hair:

They're not even trying to be scientific anymore.  Every single one of these new "S.T.E.M." projects is related to makeup.

Adrienne herself is wearing a flamboyant outfit and is covered in glittery makeup that obscures her features: 

The worst of the mix is Bryden.  In my opinion, they've completely ruined this character (and she's typically my favorite character):

Project Mc2

Bryden's hair has been straightened and bleached blonde, and, like Adrienne, she's wearing lipstick and eyeshadow with way too much chunky glitter caked into it.  

I often like Project Mc2 clothing, but this eye-covered bathrobe-jacket freaks me out!

Her eyes look pretty under all of that makeup, but I have a hard time seeing past the glitter:

Project Mc2

The dress underneath Bryden's eye-coat looks like it has the potential to be really cool, but as a group, these girls (especially Bryden and Adrienne) look like they're going out clubbing, not spending the day solving mysteries and being clever.

When I retuned to Toys 'R' Us this week, the Project Mc2 shelves were virtually untouched.  The new McKeyla doll was gone, though, which is probably good because I would have been tempted again.

The Project Mc2 slogan, "smart is the new cool," would feel so much more authentic if the projects hadn't become almost exclusively themed around cosmetics and appearance.

Project Makeup and Accessories display.
Moving on.

My first visit to Toys 'R' Us was right before Easter, and so I paid special attention to which Hatchimmals were available.  There were a lot of the little Colleggtibles, but not many of the original full-sized Hatchimals.  

The only new Hatchimal brand toy I noticed was this Secret Scene egg house:

These eggs have a peep hole at the top.  If you hold the egg up to the light (like a spyglass or something) you can peek in and see a cartoon image printed onto transparent plastic.  It's a bit like the View Master toys of my youth, except the images don't change. The egg itself then opens up to reveal a little play area for the mini Hatchimal Colleggtibles.

I thought it might be a good toy for Sunday Surprise since different interiors are revealed when you open the eggs, but on closer inspection it seems that there are only 3 possible houses, and you can tell which one you're going to get by peeking inside at the hidden image.

I didn't end up buying any Hatchimal toys, but I did notice something funny when I returned to Toys 'R' Us this week. 

This time, apparently all of the large Hatchimals had been fetched from storage:

Hatchimal display after the closeouts started!
The shelves were packed with them!  Funny how only a few months ago, these things were impossible to find.

On some visits to Toys 'R' Us (especially after the weekend) I can get a sense for how popular certain items are by how messy that aisle of the store is.  I think the squishy/ Pikmi Pop area was the messiest of all during my first visit:

Squishies display, before the sales.
I bought several Pikmi Pops to save up for a future Sunday Surprise.  I don't know much about those toys.

I've heard a lot about various brands of squishy toy, and so I figured I should buy one of the blind bags and maybe see what all of the fuss is about.

This small Squish-Dee-Lish bag cost me a whopping $6.99:

Squish-Dee-Lish is made by Jakks Pacific.

The toy I bought is advertised as being "slow rise," which I gather is highly desirably in a squishy toy.

The title suggests that these toys are meant to be food-related, but most of the little pictures are of non-edible things, like this adorable phone:

Or this roll of toilet paper:

Still, the label warns that the item inside is not food:

I mean, the thing above the label certainly does not look like food.  It looks like a poop emoji...with a mustache:

I'll open the bag up and see what I got.  Please don't let me get a poop emoji squishy.  Please.

Oh, good!  Whatever I got is pink:

Pink blancmange?

A pink poop emoji??

Oh, man.

Well, whatever it is, I have to admit it's fun to squish.  And...


...a while... puff...

...back up:

This might be fun to squeeze for stress relief or something, but I'll admit that I still don't see why these toys are so massively popular.

When I returned to Toys 'R' Us this week, the squishy aisle was noticeably cleared out.  All of the Pikmi Pops were gone and I think all of the large squishy toys were gone, too.  There were still some blind bag options, though:

Squishies displays, after the sale started.
One area that didn't seem very popular at all was the Fingerlings display.  Again, it's hard to believe that these were impossible to find right before the holidays!

Here's the display on my first trip:

Fingerlings display before sale.
On my second trip, it looked like all of the little monkeys and unicorns had been purchased and only three little sloths remained (I think the sloths are the cutest):

Fingerlings display after sale?
But actually, all of the Fingerlings had just been collected and dumped into a big sale bin at the front of the store.

I didn't realize Teletubbies were back?  These were a big deal when my kids were babies:

Say hel-lo!
That's a weird show.

Right next to the Teletubbies, I found a few Surprizamal Mama and Baby plush (they only had the pink bear, Hailey):

This reminded me that I have to open up my Surprizamal unicorn for all of you!  Maybe that'll be tomorrow's Sunday Surprise....

I usually don't linger much in the My Little Pony aisle.  Not because I don't like My Little Pony, but because it's not the type of thing I'm usually looking to review.  However, on my recent trips to Toys 'R' Us I probably stayed for over an hour, trying to make sure I soaked in everything, so I noticed something different in the My Little Pony aisle: the newly-designed Equestria Girls.   I have no idea how long these have been out.

On my first trip, there were six different characters in stock:

Equestria Girl display before closeout.
The dolls are taller and have more human-looking faces than the doll I reviewed in 2013, but they don't have any knee articulation.  Here's Rainbow Dash:

She looks a little angry or devious to me:

The cartoon version of Rainbow Dash looks pretty tough, too, so I guess this expression is intentional:

The dolls seem reasonably priced at $10.

Whe I returned this week, a few of the characters were sold out.  Only Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Twilight Sparkle remained:

Equestria Girls display after closeout started.
I didn't see many new items in the Disney aisle, but this massive box of Princesses caught my eye (it costs $100):

The Frozen characters are conspicuously absent from this set, which can't make kids very happy, but what's worse is that the dolls have very little articulation and fairly bland faces,  Here's Cinderella as an example:

I noticed another face problem in the Barbie aisle.  I stopped to see which Fashionista characters were in stock, and found this poor Curvy doll:

She could be really pretty, but look at her lip paint!

I didn't like some of the faces on the Descendants dolls, either.  When I first reviewed these dolls, I was charmed by their cute faces and high level of articulation, but I don't feel drawn to them anymore for some reason.

In this pack, for example...

Jane looks a little silly:

And Carlos just looks weird...and slightly evil:

Here's a closer look:

I have to admit that the King Ben doll is cute, though.  I like his molded hair:

When I returned to this aisle recently, most of the Descendants dolls were still available.

One of my favorite things to look at during both Toys 'R' Us visits was the Marvel Fan Girl and Marvel Legends display:

The Fan Girls cost $50 and have elaborate costumes and what looks like decent articulation.  My store had all of the dolls in stock except for the Black Panther character, who is one of my favorites.  I ended up purchasing Black Widow in the store and then going home to order Black Panther at Toys 'R' Us online (before the site shut down).  I'm working on that review now.

Another thing I was very temped to buy was a Journey Girl.  These dolls have been hidden away (in a warehouse?) for the last year or so, but they magically appeared during my last trip to the store!

I like Kyla and Kelsey best:

I probably would have bought Kelsey (because red hair and freckles...) but I already have a version of this doll, and I decided to restrain myself.

What I bought instead (and will review separately) is an American Girl Mega Construx set.  These sets were not on much of a sale (5% off), but the mini figures are something I've wanted to review for a long time.  Incidentally, most of the American Girl merchandise was in stock on my first trip and cleaned out on my second trip:

There were no Wellie Wishers or Gabriela dolls left during the second trip, and only a handful of Truly Me dolls and accessory options.  I guess 10% off is a good sale for American Girl!

I also bought a cute pack of Cabbage Patch Kids Little Sprouts.  These are only $5.99 and include a little mystery accessory!

You can either purchase sets where the characters are visible...

...or less expensive blind bag toys that are a complete surprise:

There are also a few playlets for the tiny dolls, but these did not look very interesting or well-made:

It's just plastic scenery.  I don't think many (or any?) of the parts move or do anything.

I bought this set:

It includes a mystery accessory!

The back of the package has a little blurb about the Sprouts and a cartoon of three figures (not the ones in the box):

One of the things I like best about the Cabbage Patch Kids line is that the dolls all come with names.  I love names!  

In this case, my three characters will have "secret" names that I can look up on the collectors sheet.  It feels like a Sunday Surprise!

The figures are mounted on a piece of molded plastic that's held within the blister pack:

Here's the collector's sheet with all of the names (look at how many characters there are!) but let's not look too closely at that just yet.

The largest character in my set is this blue-eyed boy:


He's painted really well for such a small figure:

He's collected a bunch of debris in his open mouth, though, which looks a little gross:

He's wearing molded and painted clothing and has a 2017 copyright on his back:

He has two points of articulation.  His head can spin around...

And he can bend at the hips to sit down:

At first, I thought that each of his legs could move independently...

...but I was able to do that only because of the bend in his vinyl body.  The legs are connected to each other and attach to the torso with a little clip hinge joint:

Now, let's find out who this cute little guy is!  To do that, I juts had to search through the collector's sheet for a dark-haired little boy with a red shirt, blue pants, and blue eyes.

I found him!  His name is...

Michael Jay!  That's a nice name.  Reminds me of Michael J. Fox.

The baby in my set is a little baldie with bright green eyes:

As with Michael Jay, the eye paint is surprisingly clear considering how small the doll is!

The baby only has one point of articulation (her hips).

And her copyright is printed on her head, which is less attractive than having it on the shirt:

And the baby's name is...

Harlow Elizabeth!

For size reference, here's Harlow next to Catherine, one of the Babyland Mini dolls I reviewed way back in 2013 (I haven't seen those wonderful little dolls since).

Cabbage Patch Kids Little Sprout baby (left) and Babyland Mini (right).
Harlow and Michael come with a little grey cat:

The cat is not articulated at all, but is molded into a sitting position:

All of the pets come with names, too, which is awesome!

This cat's name is...

Hammy!  That's great.  I like that not all of the pet names are just human names.

Here's my happy miniature trio:

Harlow, Michael and Hammy!
I'd love to build suspense for the mystery accessory, but as you can see, that'd be hard to do:

The yellow plastic is so thin, it was immediately clear that the accessory was a teddy bear:

Here's Harlow propping up the bear so that you can see its very faint facial features:

The bear wasn't a great surprise, so let's take a look at one of the blind bag toys to see if it's more fun.  

I actually bought this little box a while ago.  It's from the first wave of these toys:

The packaging says "collectible friends inside," but gives no hint as to exactly what kind of friends those might be.  Big Kids, babies, pets, random accessories?  We'll have to find out ourselves!

Under the wrapping, the box is a squat plastic cylinder with a cabbage-shaped lid:

As soon as I cracked the lid open, I could see a lot of what was inside:


In this case, the plastic bag was completely clear, so as soon as I pulled it out, I knew exactly what I had gotten:

I got a baby and another cat!

The cat is the same mold as Hammy, but she's painted white instead of grey:

And her name is...

Bailey!  Hammy and Bailey.

The baby has a great face, but her body is not quite as well-painted as Harlow and Michael's bodies.

She has some scuffs on her arms and some ragged edges on her white diaper.

Her name is...

Carmella Heather!  That's lovely.  Check out Cian Fitzgerald, though.  He's right next to Carmella in the catalog.  I love his name and his cat suit!

I have one more little cabbage to open.  I purchased this one at Toys 'R' Us during my most recent visit:

It's from the "new" series 1.  

On this package, it's clearly stated that either a baby and a pet or a Kid will be inside:

Are you ready to find out?

Oh!  It looks like a big Kid this time!

And she has red hair!

She's great!

Her hair is curly in back, which I love:

Her neck is articulated, but that long hair prevents the head from moving too much.

I like her green eyes and her closed-mouth smile, too.  There's no debris stuck in her mouth!

She's wearing a pink shirt and a glittery purple skirt:

The paint job is pretty good, but the glitter seems unnecessary:

It took me forever to find this girl on my collector's sheet, which is because she's in the rare section!

And her name is Brittany Margaret.  I think she looks like a Margaret, so I'll probably call her that instead.

Here are all of my Little Sprouts together!

And they all fit nicely into one of the plastic cabbages for easy storage:

When my kids were really young, Toys 'R' Us was where we would go to pass the time: looking at toys and maybe choosing a few treats.  The boys loved to test drive all of the bicycles and toy cars, and none of the employees ever gave us a hard time for cruising around the aisles or lingering for hours to look at every single stuffed animal.

As my kids got older, they still enjoyed stopping in to inspect the latest Nerf Gun offerings or see if a particular coveted Transformer or Bakugan character was available.  I'd watch and listen, carefully storing up ideas for birthday or holiday surprises, and then sneak back every week or so, hoping to find whatever treasure they were dreaming about.  Toys 'R' Us rarely let me down.

During our family trips to New York City, we always made a point of stopping in at the massive flagship Toys 'R' Us in Times Square.  This place was like a theme park.  I don't think anyone in my family ever outgrew the awe we felt at seeing the ferris wheel, the huge dinosaur, the Lego models, or the overwhelming assortment of toys and games.  Even when the flagship store was replaced by the smaller temporary location, I was able to find some doll or toy gem in New York City that wasn't available in Maine.  When we return to New York later this spring, there will be a palpable void.

For the last five years, Toys 'R' Us has been an important inspiration for this blog.  Whenever I'd feel out of ideas, I'd take a quick trip to South Portland to see what was new.  I befriended several of the employees over the years, and shared thoughts about everything from Monster High to jazz tunes.  Some days, especially lately, I'll admit that the massive quantity of toys and plastic trinkets at this huge store bothered me a bit (it seems so excessive!) but, hypocritically, I'm still really sad to see it all disappear.

When I think back on memories like these, I have to agree with one particular Toys 'R' Us slogan.  It probably was the world's greatest toy store, and I'm really going to miss it:


  1. I live in Maine too and this Toys R Us you visited (Plus the Times Square one) were a major part of my childhood and I got so many toys from them, like my My Little Ponies and Barbies themed around the earlier Barbie Movies. It really hurts to see them go after so many years. :( I'm glad you got these photos to help preserve the memories of Toys R Us after they're gone for good!

  2. Did anyone else's TRU mark up their Black Panther Madame Alexander Doll to 80$?

    That certainly didn't help with selling them...

    1. I'm always surprised how many people never bother to check price-match policies. TRU price-matches Target, Walmart, even Amazon Prime. Most stores do this these days. I always go to the store I want, find what I want, then find the lowers competitor price and head to customer service. Target knows me for this. :D

    2. Oh, I am very well aware of price checking polices, but when the only option is a doll that was TRU exclusive and sold by a random third party, they're not going to take that lower price from Amazon.

  3. The Black Panther doll (especially the variant with gold instead of silver) is definitely the most gorgeous of the Fan Girl dolls, but man, she’s so much more expensive than the others!

    I’m dying for the red panda Pikmi Pop but wow those tiny plush are pretty high for what they are. The surprise element of toys isn’t as fun to me when they’re so high and there’s only one you want!

  4. It’s so sad that Toys R Us is closing! 😢 I will miss going there...

  5. The thing that always struck me about that Disney Princess doll set is that both Jasmine and Pocahontas have the wrong skin tone. They both look caucasian.

  6. I have really gotten into the Journey Girls this past year - especially with the latest line - and I am mostly upset about ToysRUs going under because it's a proprietary brand of theirs. The ToysRUs by my house closed something like 8 years ago and I never bothered to drive the 20 minutes to get to the other one. But this past weekend my mom and I went up there, thinking there would be these great sales, and as we walked in my mom started laughing because she saw the same sign you saw and noticed that under "Everything up to 30% off! nothing held back!" it says "some exclusions apply". LOL

  7. There is such a huge STEM-push that even STEM-loving girls are pushing back. I'm a Girl Scout troop leader, and a mom to a daughter who loves science so much that she wants to marry Bill Nye AND Neil deGrasse Tyson (she's 8, and wants to marry them both), yet it's so STEM-STEM-STEM!!! all the time that these girls can't stand it anymore. My daughter asked me why everything has to be learning now. The funny thing is she doesn't feel like school is all about learning since it's made more fun, whereas toys and TV shows are pushing it in the faces of kids that they must be learning all the time. When dolls make learning science into a chore, but school gets them excited, you know the STEM-push has gone too far.

    Even Girl Scout Brownie badges are all STEM, almost 100% of the time.

    Now I'm going to slightly defend a show/doll series that even my daughter despises (she sees the girls as idiots, which they are--the social media guru even sent out a social media message that revealed the prince's daughter was 7 when she saw that, and saw why Bryden was an idiot) and say that the change toward makeup might be a response to the push-back against STEM. But still, since this series did start out as something intended to be STEM, they should have done more than recipes, especially some, or at least one, that will be specific to only a few skin tones. The bronzer is one that will only work on darker skin tones. That *craft* could have been made into an experiment by using a few different kitchen ingredients, and going over how different ingredients mixed together give different results, and instruct on how to mix for different shades to find one that matches you the best. Quite the "no shit, sherlock" thing, but it's better than a straight recipe.

    Equestria Girls are AMAZING, Emily. Plop your butt down and watch at least the first two movie. NOW. Like...right now.

    I haven't been able to make myself go to my local TRU. My husband went, and he admitted tearing up watching parents and their kids playing baseball in the aisles and such. I know I'd just start sobbing.

    1. I totally agree with you. Everyone wants to make girls do Stem and it’s annoying because like, maybe some people don’t wanna do that???

    2. The emphasis should be "Let girls do STEM because it's cool.....if they WANT to do it. There's no shame either way."

    3. I 100% agree with you on the Equestria Girls movies, Anonymous! And Emily, PLEASE review the new EG dolls! As a long time EG collector, I'm dying to see what they're like! Have a nice day

    4. LOL! You won me over. :D My butt is plopped down and I have the first Equestria Girls movie queued up. I also have a few EG dolls on the way...

    5. I was so-so on the first two EG Girls movies that I saw, even though I've seen most of the FiM:MLP series, but I think the third movie (or maybe the fooourth? I can't remember if there's one between the concert and the summer camp one, but I'm thinking of summer camp) built on the prior movie plots nicely. And they handled Sunset Shimmer's character really well. They even figured out how romantic character chemistry works! And I'll admit, I didn't see the villain twist coming right away. I haven't seen any of the EG movies since then, if they've made more, but I like the direction they're going; making EG into its own thing and just having fun with this parallel universe. :)

    6. Well yeah, there were four movies(the first one, one about music, one about sport and one about summer camp), and then they just did nothing for some time, now there's a series of short cartoons about them and also a new special, Forgotten Friendship (it's good, but don't watch it if you didn't watch the previous ones). My fave was the camp one - loads of magic and unexpected plot twists:D
      Emily, thanks so much for agreeing to check out the EG. They might seem awkward, but I think they're really cool. Have a nice day



    1. :D Well, your comment inspired me to take another look at her, so I owe you! Wish I could give you mine now that I'm done photographing her. She has a few weird flaws, but a gorgeous face!

  9. I'm waiting for my Toys R Us to be 30% off of everything before getting anything more. %10 is not much of a sale. I do want the Black Panther Fangirl doll, and hope they will still have some when the price finally goes down.

  10. Wow, a toy with my eldest son's name? that's really rare. I mean SUPER rare.
    Kinda awesome.

    Sad about tru, we went to my local and I admit, I kinda cried a little bit seeing it totally empty and cordoned off. So many good times were spent there with the kids, and on my own. I loved tru, it was a great place. Overpriced perhaps, but wonderful to just wander around.

    I'm gonna miss em

  11. It's so funny to me that you didn't get Kelsey because you have one. This Kelsey has freckles and features the new body mold so she is different. That doesn't mean you needed another one but I did. When I heard TRU was closing some stores, I rushed right out to get her. I think that makes four Kelseys...

    For anyone anticipating missing Journey Girls, they are made by Lotus but so are a lot of other brands. I previously did a blog post on it for CDN here:

    You can also see the list of Lotus dolls on Dollation here:

    I'm sure there will be either more brands with JG features or the brand Journey Girls will transition elsewhere with TRU gone. The Newberry dolls from Sears Canada have recently met a similar fate. They are also Lotus and transitioned to My Sweet Girl (at US Kmart) and a brand just labeled Lotus that I found at Marshalls over the holidays.

    I suspect someone could make a fortune selling, "I was a Toys R Us kid" t-shirts right now. I shall miss them.

  12. What a really interesting and sort of sad look at the end of that particular Toys R Us. As a resident of Portland it was mine too and I already miss doll hunting with my mother every other weekend.
    I’ve never commented on your blog before but this entire post is something I know I’ll look back on later with nostalgia. Thanks for writing it up and providing such great pictures of the store.