Monday, July 2, 2018

Toys "R" Us: The Final Week

As I wrote about previously, I was am a Toys "R" Us kid. I have been for most of my life in one way or another. I thought it would be nice to talk a bit about the final week at my Toys "R" Us, store 8927.

6/24/18 - Sunday, the Beginning of the End
The aisles are getting very, very light.
I didn't work on this day, but I did visit the store. I went to the theater with several friends of mine to (finally) see Deadpool 2 and after the movie we ran by. I hadn't worked since Friday the 22nd, and in that short amount of time, the store had visibly changed.

I walked back into the stock room and saw that the run of pallet racking where we used to keep boxed bicycles had been bought and removed at some point over the weekend. It was weird to see the entire wall empty. I had seen the rack itself empty before, but to see it just completely missing was strange.

In addition to this, the long desk in assembly where we used to build bikes was also gone. Because of that, the wall next to my work station was vacant with the exception of the tools which were left hanging on the wall where the desk once was.

I bought a Lego set before I left. It is one of the last things I ever purchased at the store. I like to build Lego sets when I'm feeling down. Seemed appropriate to buy one today.

"What's for Lunch?" - N/A

6/25/18 - Monday
They took the entire game wall away.
Today we were given a large dumpster to discard fixtures into. It was parked directly outside the receiving door on the dock. The liquidator tasked me with cleaning up the assembly area and the fixture area, so myself and two other guys began going through things and dumping them into the trash.

We started in assembly, and between the two of them, they laid claim to almost all of the tools that were hanging on the wall. The only thing left was the tool used to screw pedals onto bikes. I figured since I have built many bikes in my days there using that tool I would take it as a keepsake. Then we started going through the shelving area, which has always looked like a bomb went off in it. Even more so now with all the wire side cap fixtures tossed back there. It was a disaster, but by the end of it, it was cleaner than I had ever seen it before. I guess throwing away half a dumpster worth of wire racking and miscellaneous bits of metal helped.

We also had a few people come in to dismantle and pick up the entire game wall. It was the first section of the sales floor I had seen where something that had been there since the store was built was no longer there. When they left, all that remained were cobwebs along the wall and a dirty floor. Seeing this was troubling, but not to the point of drawing tears.

It's just going to get worse from here.

"What's for Lunch?" - KFC

6/26/18 - Tuesday
The first area of the store that was missing an aisle.
When I got to work today I saw that one the aisles was completely gone. It was the first time an actual aisle was removed, and it was a pretty big punch to the gut. I attempted to continue cleaning up the fixture area today, but I was tasked with moving merchandise from the center aisles of the store to the front aisles so we could rope them off.

It was super busy today. We moved the Power Rangers Ninja Steel Lion Fire Fortress Zord around for what feels like the 100th time. No one has bought these things, and no one cared at all about them until we started moving them. It's like it takes us moving them for people to notice them, even though they literally take up an entire aisle.

One of our employees who recently left named Jeff came to visit the store today. A few of us were standing near the front of the store and I happened to glance over my shoulder and I saw him walking quickly towards me with his arms extended to hug me. Jeff has recently been going though some very tough times, and to see him smiling and approaching me with such joy in his eyes melted my heart. He gave me the biggest hug and it was so wonderful to see Jeff feeling that way. I love Jeff. We all love Jeff, to tell you the truth. Jeff was one of our regular customers that we asked to join our team during Christmas. He's a wonderful human being.

"What's for Lunch?" - Fujiyama

6/27/18 - Wednesday
They took the very skeleton of the store away.
Today we began cleaning out offices. My great friend and store manager Emiley and myself cleaned out her office and threw away about three carts worth of old paperwork and supplies. After that, we cleaned out the service desk area and threw away about the same amount of junk. The cash office was also cleaned out, and we found Toys "R" Us branded fanny packs in there, which we dispersed among ourselves and proudly and unironically wore for the remainder of the day.

We also had someone come in and buy (or attempt to buy in some cases) a lot of our electronic equipment. He wanted four of our label printers, the battery cradle for the printer batteries, a scanner, an iPod scanner, and all our Garvey guns. He also bought a section of racking in the back that I had unearthed from the fixture area on Monday.

At one point I had to help a lady carry out a stroller. As I was loading it up, I came to the realization that she would probably be the last customer I would ever have to carry something out for. I told her this, and as I did, my voice started trembling. I never could have guessed that something like that would choke me up.

The back of house after all the racking was sold.
Then we had a group of folks come in and start dismantling the remaining storage racks in the store room. When I left, there was only one rack left and it had already been bought by someone. We also had someone pick up one of our dollies, and someone else came and picked up two of our u-boats.

When I was leaving, there were people dismantling more of the back aisles, some of the aisles in the front, and a section in the seasonal area of the store when you first walk in. Not looking forward to seeing what the store looks like tomorrow when I go in.

"What's for Lunch?" - Arby's

6/28/18 - Thursday, the Final Day Open
Top part of the aisles were taken first, then the bottom.
Even more aisles were gone this morning when I arrived. Most of the aisles in the front of the store had their tops removed and it was just the base. By the end of the day, those aisles had been completely broken down and removed from the store. Likewise, the EDC case where the game consoles used to be held had been almost completely dismantled.

Right when we opened, my mom came to the store and brought us all Krispy Kreme donuts. Everyone really appreciated them and at least one of the boxes was gone in no time at all. She was visibly distraught seeing the store in the condition it's currently in. My mom has a lot of memories of going to the store, too. She only saw the front, and since it bothered her as much as it did, I told her she shouldn't explore the rest of the store, for that is truly heartbreaking.

At 10:30 shortly after open, Emiley and myself went to a local tattoo shop called Beauty is Pain where one of our ex-employees and friend named Austin Modglin works. Emiley had him do a fantastic piece on her left shoulder of Geoffrey the Giraffe in a heart with the words "I'll always be a Toys "R" Us kid" circling it. She kept our destination a secret from the rest of the workers, so no one knew where we had gone. I am very happy that she asked me to join her to get it done. I did tear up when I saw the finished piece. Austin did a fantastic job.

Michael holding a hedgehog.
Near the end of the day, another co-worker and good friend of mine named Michael suddenly appeared holding a real hedgehog. We all gathered around him as he held it and took pictures. It was a super surreal moment and I'm not entirely sure what happened to the hedgehog after I left. I know he took it home with him, though.

Of note, today will be the last day I will wear my Toys "R" Us shirt in to work. Tomorrow and Saturday I'm going to work in street clothes.

"What's for Lunch?" - Nothing

6/29/18 - Friday, the Clean Up Day
Roped off areas of the store.
This was quite the day. It was the first day we were officially closed.

When I got to work today I cleaned up all the caution tape we had strewn around the store blocking off aisles. There were several times when even doing this made me tear up. I also pulled down the 80% off signs because, well, we didn't have any merchandise left to sell. Yesterday was the last day we were open, and this morning a buyer came in around 7:30 and bought every single piece of product we had left.

I had to use a push broom to try to dislodge the debris which had been waxed to the floor over the years, and I had very little success in doing so. Around this time, my boss came in to work. I could tell by the look on her face that she was troubled. She had a broom of her own from home and she said we could start sweeping the areas under the shelves in the back aisles. On the way to the back, an overwhelming wave of sadness hit me and I dropped the broom, turned around, and hugged her. We both started crying.

She told me that she had already cried on the way in to work because she heard a song that got to her. Then she walked over to the store phone, put it on the intercom, and then played this song over the whole store. It was the song she heard, and it was extremely appropriate. Again, we both cried.

Electronics booth.
The day was spent cleaning from start to finish. Emiley and I pushed fixtures out of rooms that have been there since the store was built. We removed the final table from the break room. We swept the floors, then we swept the floors, then we swept the floors again. At one point everyone went outside to the back of the building where we had broken carts stored that were full of busted cart wheels. We ended up pushing them through the parking lot at Verizon next door because the ground was muddy and the carts were so heavy.

We also ordered pizza today from Papa John's and ate at a table we placed in the now empty computer room. It was almost like the last supper, though I think tomorrow will be more apt to call that.

At the end of the day, we had the liquidator take our picture as we all stood together. The ones who were still there at the time, that is. I hope we get a picture of everyone. That would be really special.

Trivia for myself here. The last song that played in the store over the store intercom was Brand New by Ben Rector. But... it should have been this, which they did play in the store regularly, though it would have broke my heart to hear it as the final song.

"What's for lunch?" - Papa John's

6/30/18 - Saturday, the Final Day
Finished cleaning up trash from the floor.
There have been, I would say... maybe three or four traumatic events that I have experienced in my life. Terrible things that have happened to me that took me down to a place where the tears were always ready to go at a moment's notice if the slightest thing triggered them. This day is one of those events.

I knew it was going to be hard. I knew it was going to be terrible. But, even knowing that, nothing can prepare you for it. The only way you could prepare for it is if you had experienced it before, but clearly none of us have. It's a big deal. It's a big deal for people who haven't even been there a year to people like me who have been there almost two decades.

While I was getting ready for work, I thought, "This is going to be the last time I get ready to work at Toys "R" Us." Then, on my way to work, I thought, "This is going to be the last time I drive to work at Toys "R" Us." The day was full of moments like that. Even little things like, "Will this be the last time I throw something down the trash chute?" cropped up in my head now and again.

Friends playing Smash Bros.
Today we were in the building waiting for a company to show up and take the shopping carts we still had left. Their window was from 10 in the morning to 7 in the evening. We couldn't leave until they came or until 7, whichever came first.

The mood was very somber when we got there. Everyone was quiet and aimlessly walked around chitchatting with each other. One of my friends, Michael, brought in some video games and board games for everyone to play with. After everyone got settled in, people started breaking off to go get food from various places, and I ran by Sonic and got some food and some drinks for some of my friends.

We played Uno, Cards Against Humanity, and Super Mario Bros. Monopoly. While we were playing Monopoly, some of my other friends started tossing a ball around and catching it with one of those velcro catching mitts. Around this time, Brad, the assistant manager, had to leave. He walked around and said his goodbyes. When he got to me, he extended his hand out to shake it, but I hugged him instead. I could tell Brad was starting to get choked up. You know, I don't think Brad was expecting us to react the way we did to his departure. I've heard Brad talk before about how ex-team members of his don't generally look back on him too fondly. But as he had person after person come up and hug him, you could see the sadness come across his face. The sadness of knowing that he was walking out of the store for the last time, and all of these people were crying while watching him go. Brad is very stone-faced, so seeing him emotional really got to me.

My friends playing catch in the empty store.
After that, the day wasn't the same. We never quite recovered from seeing Brad go. It was completely downhill from there.

The company that was supposed to get the carts never showed up, so we left the store at 7:00. Emiley and I made one last pass through the store and ended up in the break room where we talked for a minute about what Toys "R" Us means to us and reminisced for a bit. We began walking along the back wall and I looked over and saw everyone standing near the front door. I said to Emiley, "Look at everyone." Those people are family.

We walked slowly to the front and I feel like everyone was watching us. I could already see tears in people's eyes as we approached. Two Geoffrey birthday balloons were grabbed from the office, the alarm was set, and everyone began to file out of the building. I looked over to Emiley and saw the tears in her eyes as she and I watched our family walk out the door for the last time. I put my arm around her as everyone walked out.

You can see the sadness on at least four of their faces.
Once everyone was out, her and I stepped out and we both pushed the door closed together, and she locked it for the last time. I turned around and saw the look of absolute devastation on the faces of all my friends. The pain each and every one of them felt was the same, and it didn't matter how long they had worked there. It affected everyone in the same way.

Emiley took one of the balloons and wrote "TRU 8927" followed by the words, "The best store on the planet." On the other balloon she wrote, "Store 8927" followed by, "World's greatest toy store" and put a big heart on it. Her and I held on to one of the balloons and our friend Carmen held on to the other, and then at the same time, we released them into the sky. We all stood there watching them slowly drift away, and it was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life.

Again, I turned to see the sobbing faces of all my friends. We all hugged each other and cried. It's honestly the saddest thing I've ever seen. After we recovered a bit from it, we all stood in front of the building and had our picture taken.

The plan then was to go to Tequilas for dinner. Everyone got in their cars and began to head that way. I stayed behind until I was the last one in the parking lot. I backed up to where I could see the front of the building and quietly said, "Goodbye, friend" and pulled out of the lot for the last time.

We arrived at Tequilas like a funeral procession. We had the back room all to ourselves since our group was so large. We all laughed and had a good time, and we honestly needed it. If we had just left Toys "R" Us after closing it down I don't think that would have been good for any of us, and I think Emiley knew that.

The last supper at Tequilas.
Once we finished eating and visiting (and having an encounter with a very spicy waiter) we made our way to the parking lot where we stood and talked for what felt like an hour. Not long after we got outside, Emiley and Triniti headed out, but not before Emiley rapped at us from out the window. Her flow was incredible. Her science too tight. We all clapped for her as they drove away. Our leader, the one who had actually made that store the place it was, had left the party.

Some people started heading out one at a time, and eventually there were only six of us left in the lot. The six of us who remained ended up going to Steak 'n Shake and sitting for a while. We weren't ready to part ways yet. We still weren't ready to go home. And so Jeff, Jimmy, Jordan, Michael, Emily, and myself all made our way to get some shakes to end the night.

As we sat, there was the feeling that we had all had a shared traumatic experience and it was finally catching up to us. The service was terrible, as it usually is at that time of night, and it took us forever to get our shakes. Finally we finished drinking and talking, and we walked outside and then made our goodbyes. It wasn't the end. We knew we would see each other again. But it was still an emotional moment when we finally parted ways.

Once I got home I went directly to bed. I laid there and couldn't stop thinking about the day we had all had. In time, I somehow fell asleep, and the day we left our store for the last time had finally come to a close.

"What's for lunch?" - Sonic, Tequilas, Steak 'n Shake

Never forget.
It's a weird feeling. I woke up today and it felt like being off on a Saturday. I didn't have my alarm set. I didn't get ready for work. I just got up, and that was it. And my friends, they're all experiencing the same. And like them, I can't go to Toys "R" Us now when I'm bored. I can't go to Toys "R" Us now when I'm lonely and want to see all my friends. I can't go back into the building... at all.

This was taken from us. If this had not happened, we would all still be there going about our day to day lives. We would be getting ready to start planning ahead for this coming Christmas season. Fall resets would be getting ready to drop. We would start thinking about hiring more help for the holidays to help us get through it. I would more than likely be thinking about putting in for a vacation soon. I guess I'm kind of on one at the moment.

And now, two days later, I keep thinking back to the moment outside the building, turning around and seeing my friends' faces when the doors were finally closed. Seeing that pain scrawled across literally everyone who was present. Knowing that all of their hearts were simultaneously breaking, and there was nothing I or anyone else could do about it.

If you have never gone through this, you have no idea what it's like. You might think it's just a store, but I assure you, it's much more than that. The memories that are tethered to that building. The people who met each other there. The friendships that were made. The families that were formed. I know several people who met their significant other there. People who worked shifts together and then came to realize that they were developing feelings for each other. In some of those cases, those folks had kids and then they took those kids to the same store where mom and dad first met. This place closing is such a loss, and I cannot accurately convey to you how much it means to everyone who worked there.

I feel my co-worker and friend Emily said it better than I ever could. "RIP 8927, where co-workers became friends and friends became family."


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