Published 5:09 pm, Monday, June 18, 2018

The ancient proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention” is the driving force in our evolutionary culture of material consumption, from horseback to airplanes in transportation and telegraphs to cell phones in communication. Our shopping habits are linked to that evolutionary trajectory as well.

But at what cost?

Brick-and-mortar stores are being swallowed by the shopping trends of our online community. One of the latest victims is Toys “R” Us. They are officially liquidating and closing their doors forever in the next few months, leaving many customers, including those who preferred giving their child the option of physically purchasing a toy, stranded.

Full disclosure: Online shopping has also affected my family, namely my father, who will be one of the 30,000 employees unemployed.

One of the most iconic retail stores in U.S. history, Toys “R” Us was the go-to place for every toy imaginable. I still recall seeing Geoffrey the Giraffe dancing to that famous jingle, “I don’t want to grow up / I’m a Toys “R” Us kid / They got a million toys at Toys “R” Us that I can play with…” It was the place where a kid could be a kid. For millennials growing up in the 1990s, the polychromatic insignia was the flashing beacon of endless toys, bikes, and video games.

Founded by Charles Lazarus in 1948, the toy retail giant was originally a baby furniture store. As Lazarus included toys for this growing generation of baby-booming tots, he noticed a multimillion-dollar opportunity. The World War II veteran began focusing on creating a retail store completely dedicated to children’s toys. His inspiration for the name would reflect that dedication to entertaining and inspiring the imagination of children at home and abroad. Hence the name, Toys “R” Us.

Unfortunately, today, Geoffrey the Giraffe faces extinction in the realm of the Amazon., that is.

The online retail giant has claimed another victim in the shopping wars. As Charles Lazarus saw a treasure trove of opportunity in children’s toys in the 1950s, so did Jeff Bezos with online shopping in the early 1990s. At first, an online store primarily dedicated to cornering the book market, Amazon has now exploded into a multibillion-dollar empire, targeting consumers’ obsession with material goods all around the globe. Initially, investors were skeptical of Bezos’ ability to turn a profit due to slow internet service and limited access to computers in the 1990s.

All that changed with the advancements in smart phones and tablets, combined with the convenience of high-speed internet and free public Wi-Fi, giving Amazon the marketing leverage it needed to annihilate shopping centers and malls fixed on brick-and-mortar locations.

Grocery market chains are now the latest victim caught in the crosshairs of the economic jungle. The online juggernaut has recently acquired Whole Foods Market promoting online grocery shopping — Amazon Fresh.

Grocers beware! Amazon is ravenous for your deli meat.

Although other factors led to Toys “R” Us’ demise — unresolvable debt with creditors stymied Toys “R” Us from embracing the technological future — it is kismet that Charles Lazarus died a few months prior to the store’s announced closure.

As a millennial, I’m no stranger to online shopping. However, I have grown concerned about my generation’s tendency to be complacent about the dangers of online shopping. Is not leaving the house so vital that we economically shoot ourselves in the foot? I wait for the day to see Lazarus’s toy store rise from the dead to the Toys “R” Us jingle.

Unfortunately, preadolescence doesn’t last forever.

Alfredo Torres Jr. is a copy editor for CTN: A Journal of Pedagogy and Ideas, and an independent historian working at Palo Alto College.

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