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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Saying bye to Toys R Us and other losses, but hello to 2016

Customers ride the ferris wheel at the Toys

Customers ride the ferris wheel at the Toys 'R' Us Times Square flagship store December 24, 2015 in New York. The 110,000 square foot toy store is scheduled to close Dec 30, 2015 after the toy chain declined to renew its lease. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / DON EMMERT

There’s a hole in the sky above my house. I see it every time I turn the corner to drive down the last block to home, and it stops me. Five years after our majestic 100-foot oak tree was toppled in a spring rainstorm, I’m still grappling with its absence.

The barren sightline is more obvious come spring, when the greenery to its right and left provide a contrast. But I find myself thinking about the tree now because, well, that’s what we do as we pass from one year to the next.

We get reflective. We think about what’s changed in our lives, what we’ll miss, what we said good riddance to, and what we hope will never disappear.

The closing of the Toys R Us flagship in Times Square a few days ago fit the seasonal mood. With its Ferris wheel, animatronic T-Rex, and Lego city landmarks, the store was iconic despite having opened only 14 years ago. Many mourned its departure, a replay of five months earlier when the even more iconic FAO Schwarz shuttered its doors for good. Both were felled by the twin agents of commercial displacement: obscenely high rents and online competition.

Less noticed but equally impactful to me was the closure in March of the city’s last classical sheet music store. Frank Music Co. opened in 1937; customers included pianist Emanuel Ax and violinist Itzhak Perlman. I’ve played piano most of my life, and while music scores are readily available online, the void created by Frank’s departure left in me a wistfulness that is hard to describe.

These losses might be mere blips in the world writ large, but they add to the backdrop of unsettled times with which so many are struggling. Unfortunately, that won’t change with the turn of a calendar page.

The globe seems to be in flux. More than 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes, one in every 122 people trying to escape war, repression, or some other calamity. Experts expect that number to continue to grow, as will the number of those tasked with providing shelter and protection.

Fear and anxiety are in the air, stoked by terrorism and by fire-breathing politicians here and abroad. Many people also are nervous about an economy that has left them behind.

In the United States, the death rate for middle-aged whites without college degrees has spiked sharply, something that virtually never happens in any demographic group in any advanced nation. The culprits, researchers say, are drugs, alcohol and suicide.

Nearly half of our young people are so pessimistic about their futures they say the American Dream is dead for them.

With so much uncertainty surrounding us, we grip tighter to what we know. To family and friends, for sure, especially during holiday seasons already awash in nostalgia. But also to the things and places we know.

So we lament Toys R Us and FAO Schwarz, and all the Pathmarks and Waldbaums that vanished from Long Island in 2015. But then we adapt, as we always do. Something else moves in, we find other places. We yearn for a favorite restaurant that suddenly stopped serving, while smiling about the new one we just discovered.

So, yes, I still so miss terribly the beauty of that tree, its canopy of shade and cool, the acorns that drew the squirrels that frolicked endlessly in our backyard. But I also revel in the sunshine that now bathes us, that nurtures the asparagus and strawberries and arugula that had no chance before.

This new year might not bring the relief we seek, not right away. But it brings the chance to find it, and to plug the holes that plague us now.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.


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