The joy of toy shops

The Bubster and I went to a toy shop last weekend and it was absolutely brilliant. This might sound like a strange admission from a dad, who ended up buying three items that required parental assembly, needed AAAs and caused my bank balance to be £73 lighter, but here’s the thing.

Usually, I don’t find myself surrounded by Anna dolls, Micro Scooters and Chase doggies, because I don’t go to toy shops. And I don’t go to toy shops because I’m a miserable fun-Hoover, who never buys his son anything. Just kidding. I never set foot inside these stores, because we just get the Bubster’s toys and games online, mostly from Amazon. I mean, it’s silly not to, right? The choice is huge, they arrive the next day and it’s invariably cheaper. What’s not to like?

Practicality Vs emotion

From a financial and practical perspective? The answer is nothing. From an emotional perspective? I realised on Sunday that the answer is everything. Yes, online price comparison sites and one-click shopping kick a lot of cash-saving ass, but where’s the thrill of discovery, the excitement of hitting the “try it” button and the joy of watching your kid’s face light up when he turns the corner and discovers MORE TRAIN SETS THAN HE COULD POSSIBLE HAVE IMAGINED IN HIS LIFE EVER? Nowhere, that’s where. Which is why I felt compelled to write the below poem.

Ode to High Street Toy Shops, a poem by Father Hood

Toy shops: a great day out

But back to my think piece. Partly due to it being ages ago, and partly due to drinking A LOT of vodka during university, I can’t recall much about my life before the age of 13. But one thing I do remember is the excitement of getting in the car and going to Toys “R” Us, Toys “R” Us, Toys “R” Us.

It was on the other side of Edinburgh from our house, it was next to a bowling alley and it was as wonderful as the “toys in their millions all under one roof” adverts made out. Sports equipment. Dolls’ houses. Ride-on vehicles. Battery-powered helicopters. Cartoon characters. Bikes. Balls. Cuddly animals. You name it, I could grab it, touch it, feel it, ride it. This wasn’t just shopping. It was a day out, and my friends and I loved it. I’m sure my son and his mates would too, but…

…Fast-forward a couple of decades and Toys “R” Us, Toys “R” Us, Toys “R” Us is no more in the UK. The adventure ended in early 2018, when the company failed to pay a £15m VAT bill and filed for bankruptcy.

Rise of the machines

“Toys “R” Us simply couldn’t compete with Amazon and other online retailers with its shabby and expensive ‘big box’ stores,” veteran retail analyst Nick Bubb told The Guardian. “Consumers won’t miss it when it’s gone.”

It’s true. As a consumer, who hopes to get the best price possible, I don’t miss it. But as the parent of an extremely active child, I really do miss the “shabby and expensive big box stores” we could eat up several hours in. Which is why I’ve decided to make a change.

From now on, for every three toys I purchase online, I’m going to endeavour to buy one in a bricks and mortar toy shop. Is this the most incredible pledge of all time? No, but, hey, revolutions have got to start somewhere, I buy a lot of toys and we’re not made of money.

So, who else is up for this? Come on, don’t be shy. There are over 19 million families in the UK and if we all buy a quarter of our toys, gadgets and gizmos in the flesh we could go a long way to saving the wonderful, child-pleasing high street toy shops that remain.

Until next time…

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