With the holiday season so close, I am beginning to strategize like at no other time of the year. Just like Santa Claus, I prepare a master list with the names of gift recipients, some ideas for each person, and when, where and how I will manage to find something for everyone.
In most cases, the obvious answer is the internet. But not so long ago, I grabbed my list (written on note paper, not digitally stored in my “notes” app) and headed to our local Toys R Us, armed with a large Starbucks coffee and high hopes of ultimately satisfying the children on my list.
But gone are the days when holiday shopping meant many visits to toy stores. In fact, the news this past summer that Toys R Us was going out of business should not have been shocking. With Amazon quickly becoming the easy and fairly painless way to shop for toys, it seemed to be only a matter of time before our local toy store disappeared. But sensing the reality and actually witnessing it are two different things.
My kids are both in college now. But while they were growing up on Long Island, they reveled in visiting the Toys R Us in Carle Place.
I remember the aisles of goodies in each department. Close to the entrance were toddler toys with bright flashing lights and cheerful musical notes. As my kids grew older and their interests matured, we studied the arts and crafts supplies and dress-up items for my daughter, and Power Rangers, Legos and Nerf guns for my son. They both loved the aisles of endless board games on display in alphabetical order. And eventually, they gravitated to the video-game section, where they begged for a Game Boy, and later, a Nintendo DS.
Even with the rise of Amazon, when I heard that the Carle Place store had closed its doors in late June, somehow I couldn’t believe it. That store was our prime destination for holiday gifts, but also, it was our Saturday morning outing, our go-to place for birthday presents and random kid paraphernalia. It became a place that evoked in me dual reactions: stress at the prospect of maneuvering a shopping cart down aisles crowded with young people who wanted everything, and happiness as I experienced the joy on my children’s faces as we pulled into the parking lot.
As I drove by the closed store, I was shocked into reminiscing about these long-ago feelings and experiences. The store was empty (EMPTY!) and the parking lot abandoned. I had flashbacks of dodging other cars full of energetic toddlers to get the closest parking spot on a rainy day. As I thought about the formerly crowded lot, my initial reaction was, “How could this place go out of business? That’s not possible, aren’t there still kids around?”
Maybe it makes sense to point and click and buy the latest Lego set, but don’t we want to spend this fun time with our kids — even if they are begging for the latest video game console, or Fortnite game? Don’t we want to experience the whole moment with them? But when you have the internet, why waste time thinking about harried moments shopping and searching for toys in a crowded chain store?
When I told my kids about the store closing, they became nostalgic for a short while. We shared some memories of our visits there. Just like our favorite toy store, that moment was fleeting.
Reader Julie Klein lives in Roslyn Heights.