Metro-East News

When Toys 'R' Us closes in Fairview Heights, the region will lose more than a business

Shoppers react to impending Toys 'R' Us closures

The Toys "R" Us location in Fairview Heights will likely close after the company files chapter 7 bankruptcy this week.
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The Toys "R" Us location in Fairview Heights will likely close after the company files chapter 7 bankruptcy this week.

Buildings will be left vacant. Jobs will be lost. Oh, and your sister’s baby registry will still be available online, but no one knows how long that will last. Liquidation sales are expected to begin soon, marking the end of an era for the nation's largest toy chain.

Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us fell into trouble a long time ago. Now, billions in debt has forced the company to close or sell all remaining stores. This move makes sense to economists, but consumers and Toys "R" Us employees are more worried about the fallout than you might think.

Take Saundra Collins and her husband, Ronald, for example. The Southern Illinois couple often drives two hours from their home in Olney to the Toys "R" Us store in Fairview Heights.

Their son, Champie, loves trains.

They purchase the models he sees on YouTube from Toys "R" Us as a reward for Champie after he makes it through a doctor’s appointment in St. Louis. Champie, who uses a wheelchair, requests trains that aren't easy to find at other stores. The couple knows they can buy the trains online, but it’s not the same as making a pit stop after a tough hospital visit.

“Now, we don’t know what we will do when they are gone,” Saundra Collins said

When the nation’s top toy chain closes it will leave a mark, but it’s too soon to tell how long it will take for that scar to heal in Fairview Heights and surrounding communities.

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The business side

Toys "R" Us had about 60,000 full-time and part-time employees worldwide last year.

In the metro-east, employees at Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us learned their fate Wednesday along with company employees across the country. Toys "R" Us at 120 Commerce Lane opened in 1989. Babies "R" Us opened in 2004, replacing the city's Kids "R" Us.

When both stores close, Fairview Heights Economic Development Director Paul Ellis doesn't expect them to sit empty for long because the buildings are in a highly-coveted area, he said. Both buildings are owned by Giraffe Properties LLC, according to St. Clair County property records.

"I think that property would be in high demand," Ellis said. "But I hate to see anyone close."

Babies "R" Us will keep baby registries online in hopes of someone purchasing it as an asset, USA Today reports. Gift cards from both stores will be good for the next 30 days.

The company has a “hassle free return” policy. But during most liquidation sales you can’t make returns. Long after the store closes and the building goes dark, consumers will continue to shop at big box stores and online for toys.

In its last days, Toys "R" Us will try to bundle its Canadian business, with about 200 U.S. stores, and find a buyer. The company's U.S. online store would still be running for the next couple of weeks in case there's a buyer for it.

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Babies R Us stores across the country, including the one in Fairview Heights, closed in 2018. AP File Photo

The personal side

But shoppers and small business owners argue that the experience isn’t the same when shopping online. You can’t hold a toy before you buy it online, you can’t play with a demo and you can’t take it out of the box until it’s shipped to your home.

Reviews are available online, but that’s not the same as talking to a toy expert who works in the store.

Shawnta Ray, owner of Happy Up Inc. in Edwardsville, looks at herself as curator of toys and games. She hand picks the items displayed on the store shelves. Ray also keeps disappointing duds out of the store.

“It’s a magical distraction,” Ray said of America’s longtime love affair with toys and games.

“Being human is pretty difficult.” That’s one of the reasons consumers keep coming back for more of the same feeling, but the toy-industry continues to change with time.

“How we did business 10 years ago,” Ray said, “is radically different then how we do business now.”

Happy Up, Inc., formerly Once upon Toys, doesn’t buy toys in bulk anymore. Instead, the store has a limited number of each item, making it easier for it to easily cater to customers and stay on top of trends.

When Toys "R" Us closes its doors for the last time, Ray hopes more people would consider giving one of her stores a chance.

"I am positive," Ray said. "I think we will bring people over who haven’t given us a shot before.."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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