MAYS LANDING — Patrick Murphy first saw the headlines that Toys R Us stores might be closing this week on Facebook. He visited the store Wednesday to price outdoor equipment, such as a swing set.
He has been shopping here for at least seven years, buying presents for other friends’ children before he became a parent himself.
“It’s fun to bring a kid into a toy store, and there are not many left,” said Murphy, 41, of Northfield. “To go to a cart and swiping online is not as exciting as going to a store and grabbing a toy.”
Toys R Us told its employees Wednesday the company will close all U.S. stores following slow holiday sales.
The move will cost nearly 33,000 people their jobs across 800 U.S. stores. No closing date has been scheduled.
In South Jersey, Toys R Us has stores in Atlantic City, Mays Landing and Vineland.
Local customers Wednesday said something will be missing from their children’s youth if they can’t take them into a toy store and have them experience being overwhelmed by the selection.
Jennifer Theesen, 39, of Little Egg Harbor Township, said she has been shopping at the Toys R Us in Mays Landing with her 18-year-old daughter, Kayla Colmyer, but not with her 3-year-old son, Jayce Theesen.
Theesen stopped by Toys R Us to buy Play-Doh for Jayce. She has been coming to the store for the past 12 years, even though there is another Toys R Us in Toms River.
“It’s awful,” said Theesen, who added shopping online is no substitute for brick-and-mortar stores. “I like to be out and about. I like trying on my clothes. I like to come and look at stuff. Toys R Us has been around forever.”
Toys R Us was founded in 1948 and has been in the toy business for more than 65 years.
The news comes six months after the retailer filed for bankruptcy. The company has struggled to pay down nearly $8 billion in debt — much of it dating to a 2005 leveraged buyout — and has had trouble finding a buyer. There were reports earlier this week that Toys R Us had stopped paying its suppliers, which include the country’s largest toy makers. On Wednesday, the company announced it would close all 100 of its U.K. stores. In the United States, the company told employees closings would occur over time, and not all at once, according to a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.
Toys R Us, once the country’s pre-eminent toy retailer, has been unable to keep up with big-box and online competitors. The recent holiday season dealt another blow to the embattled company, which struggled to find its footing even as the retail industry racked up its largest gains in years. In January, Toys R Us announced it would close 182 U.S. stores, or about one-fifth of its remaining locations.
Despite turnaround efforts, which included adding more hands-on “play labs,” retail experts say the 60-year-old company has been unable to get customers back into its stores. It doesn’t offer the low prices or convenience of some of its larger competitors, nor the fun-filled experience that many smaller outfits do, some analysts have said.
Toys R Us, based in Wayne, Passaic County, has struggled for years to pay down billions of dollars in debt as competitors such as Amazon, Walmart and Target win over an increasingly larger piece of the toy market. Its bankruptcy filing cited $7.9 billion in debt against $6.6 billion in assets. The company said it has more than 100,000 creditors, the largest of which are Bank of New York (owed $208 million), Mattel ($136 million) and Hasbro ($59 million).
”The liquidation of Toys R Us is the unfortunate but inevitable conclusion of a retailer that lost its way,” Neil Saunders, managing director of the research firm GlobalData Retail, wrote in an email. “Even during recent store closeouts, Toys R Us failed to create any sense of excitement. The brand lost relevance, customers and ultimately sales.”
At its heyday, Toys R Us had a towering flagship store in New York’s Times Square (now closed and home to Old Navy) and a ubiquitous icon, Geoffrey the Giraffe.
”We know that customers are willing to pay more for an enjoyable experience — just look at the lines at Starbucks every day — but Toys R Us has failed to give us anything special or unique,” said O’Keefe, the Virginia Commonwealth University professor. “You can find more zest for life in a Walgreens.”
Victor De La Rosa, 21, of Atlantic City, stopped by the Mays Landing store Wednesday to pick up Disney action figures for his 2-year-old son, Santino Barbosa. He has been shopping at the Toys R Us here for the past five years.
“I think it’s terrible. It’s very unfortunate. I feel like sometimes children aren’t playing with toys as much as they used to, but this is something that should still be around for the children. I’m still very traditional with the way that I want to raise my kid around toys and stuff,” De La Rosa said. “It’s a great store. It really is.”
De La Rosa said he does shop online a great deal. He occasionally buys toys online, but sometimes, he would rather just come to the store.
“I’m one of these people that if I see something I like, I will just grab it and add to the cart,” De La Rosa said. “There are also sales in stores. There is online, too, but sometimes when you go to the store, like an outlet store, sometimes, there are better sales. Sometimes, there is more clearance stuff you can actually physically see.”
The Washington Post contributed to this report.