I'll always remember Toys R Us as Santa's showroom.
When it was reported late last month that the last of the chain's toy stores was closing, I was surprised at how much it bummed me out.
It felt like a gut punch, actually. Not to be over-dramatic, but it felt like a part of our kids' childhood had been wadded up and thrown away. Heck, I remember shopping Babies R Us for infant car seats and onesies before our first child was born.
When our boys — now 16 and 11 — were younger, we'd make several trips a year to Toys R Us at Hamilton Place or in Hixson to examine the merchandise, especially in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Convincing the boys to stay off the bikes and out of the electric cars was a major challenge.
The big-box stores — such as Walmart and Target — were our go-to places for friends' birthday parties. But Toys R Us, with its miles of aisles, was definitely the place to go to assemble a letter to the North Pole.
We were Toys R Us regulars through the Thomas the Tank Engine phase, the Lego phase, the starter-bicycle phase and the electric-car phase. And while we were there, we'd sometimes pick up a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle for Mommy.
Our older son would beg to go to the toy store during his baseball-card-collecting days. He'd spend tons of money buying big packages of cards and then throw most of them away, except for the Atlanta Braves. He was especially fond of Braves pitcher John Smoltz, and he kept all of his Smoltz cards in a three-ring binder.
Toys R Us was always a good place to blow a birthday windfall. Our younger son, now 11, could spend $100 in the Lego aisle in about 60 seconds. The photography on a Lego box was so crisp that a model of a battleship or a fire engine became irresistible.
When I told our 11-year-old son that Toys R Us was closing forever, he looked at me as if I was making it up — or just trying to be mean.
"Why did they close?" he said, frowning.
"Not enough business, I guess," I said. "Too many people buying toys on Amazon maybe."
Of course, it's more complicated than that. News reports about the chain's demise mention private-equity ownership and a crushing debt load. The New York Times published a story about the last day at a Toys R Us location, and it left me with a lump in my throat.
All I know is that the retail chain I most identified with happy times has closed forever. I can imagine my children telling their children some day about the "good old days" when you could to a place like Toys R Us and actually feel, smell and touch the toys.
"Toys R Us?" I can imagine my grandchildren saying. "What does that even mean?"
As it was closing up shop, the company posted this message to customers on its website, "Promise us just this one thing: Don't ever grow up. Play on!"
Oops. I think that lump in my throat is back.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645.