TOMS RIVER – What was once a packed parking lot, was now empty with the exception of several cars that slowly stopped to see the status of the Toys R’ Us store across from the Ocean County Mall on Hooper Avenue in the township.
The would be shoppers were surprised to learn that the store had already closed its doors for good on June 27, two days earlier than expected.
While the store’s closure was no surprise as the announcement came months ago, the realization of that closure hit home for many “Toys R’ Us Kids.”
Who doesn’t remember that famous Toys R’ Us jingle “I don’t want to grow up…I’m a Toys R’ Us Kid…” or seeing the store’s mascot, a giraffe named Geoffrey roaming around the store or seeing him dance in commercials?
Toys R’ Us would open late during the holiday season and it would be among the many stores open in the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday so that parents could start shopping for their children’s holiday wish list.
It also hired on extra help between November and mid-January to help with the influx of extra shoppers. The store also featured a Geoffrey Club where parties would be held for children and Geoffrey would often be the special guest inside the store.
Facing a series of financial hardships over the span of a decade, the owners of the chain declared bankruptcy late last year and while there were hopes of a fiscal reorganization that would keep the store alive, that just didn’t happen. Some stores started to close their doors before the end of the year.
Toys R’ Us was a fixture on Hooper Avenue in Toms River. Kay Bee Toy Store based in the Ocean County Mall shut down many years ago but Toys R’ Us opened an annex store in the Ocean County Mall only a few years ago in what was once the mall’s Disney store.
Among those who came to make one last visit to the store, believing it would be open, was the Merizalde family of Manchester Township. Silvia, William and their daughter Kiomara, 6, and son William, 10, even took a selfie of themselves as a keepsake.
“We have lots of memories from when I was a kid,”: William Merizalde said. “I used to come here a lot myself. I remember getting trains, video games and Legos.”
“It is very sad,” Silvia Merizalde added.
“I thought they would be open,” township resident Jackie Rombardo said as she sat in her car looking at the now locked front entrance. “I always came here as a kid When I got older it was a bit more expensive but when I was a kid I was here a lot. My fiancé’s first job was at a Toys R Us. I have some great memories. Barbies were always a big thing. The last time I came here the Barbie section had gotten smaller.”
Jamie Barker and her mother Minnie Barker of Lakewood also came to pay their respects to the cherished toy store and to also check out the boxes of free instant concrete that were available for free in front of the store.
“I can use this Quick Crete which is instant cement,” Jamie Barker said. She recalled the items she picked up as a child which included “dune buggy cars, robots and a lot of other things.”
“The sad thing is that other stores will sell the same toys but you won’t get the variety anymore,” Jamie Barker added.
Her mother chimed in that “she liked skateboards and go carts. The last time we came here we got my grandson a nerf gun.”
Raul Azordo of New York stopped by as well and expressed his sadness. “I used to go to the big one in New York. We didn’t go to often but it was great.”
Kevin Martinez and his co-worker Ashley who was to shy to give her last name, worked at the store. Martinez said he worked as a supervisor, stocking the shelves and as a cashier for six years. “I will miss working here. As I kid I would buy Lego bricks. I’d also get video games and lots of Star Wars stuff here.”
Ashley worked at the Toms River store for nine years. She said that the store manager allowed them to use their vacation time. “We used to have 30 to 40 people working here and around 110 to 120 during the Christmas season. We had 32 people work here toward the end.”
For Greg Butera of Middletown, visiting the Toms River store was part of a mission to find a store that was open and to see what was left. “People will miss coming to these stores. It isn’t the same to buy things online. I’ve been coming to Toys R’ Us all my life. People are selling store items like employee pins for ridiculous prices. A Geoffrey plush doll was being sold for $800.”
Jessica Marousis, Toms River, was checking out the Babies R’ Us store within the same plaza. That had closed days earlier. “I shopped at both stores. I have two adult children and a 19-month old daughter. A few days ago they had hundreds of strollers and car seats but I guess I waited too long. This is the end of an era and it will leave a hole in the market. I always looked forward to going to a toy store. It won’t be the same as going to a Target when you are buying your bread and shoes.”
Brick residents Anthony Cariello and Christina Rosario also stopped at the Babies R’ Us store hoping they could find some discarded mannequins.
Cariello said “I remember getting super soakers and Lego items from Toys R’ Us.”
“I just turned 30 and this was the store where you didn’t want to grow up and now it is closed so I’m a little depressed,” Rosario said.