NEW JERSEY - Toys R Us is retrenching once again.
The only two Toys R Us stores that opened in November 2019 as part of a small U.S. comeback attempt by the iconic toy chain have now closed.
The Toys R Us store at the Galleria mall in Houston shuttered on Jan. 15, while one at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey, closed on Tuesday, according to Tru Kids, a new entity formed when it acquired Toys R Us’ intellectual property during its liquidation in 2018.
The moves come as physical stores, particularly mall-based locations, have been hurt by weak customer traffic amid the pandemic.
The Toys R Us website is still in operation.
"As a result of COVID, we made the strategic decision to pivot our store strategy to new locations and platforms that have better traffic," Tru Kids said in an emailed statement Friday. "Consumer demand in the toy category and for Toys R Us remains strong and we will continue to invest in the channels where the customer wants to experience our brand."
The two shuttered locations were about 6,500 square feet — about one-seventh of the size of the old Toys R Us stores and emphasized hands-on experiences. Employees unwrapped toys, for instance, so that kids could try them out.
During a visit to the New Jersey store in late 2019, kids shot Nerf blasters and sat in a circle for story time while Geoffrey, the chain’s mascot, roamed around. Such experiences are now shunned at a time when shoppers have to abide by social-distancing rules.
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Tru Kids partnered with b8ta, a software-powered experiential retailer, in a joint venture to launch a "new store experience." The new Toys R Us stores were in a smaller space but "highly interactive with new events and activities every day," according to the company.
"As a kid, my memory of Toys ‘R’ Us was running up and down the aisles kicking balls and playing with the coolest toys," said Phillip Raub, co-founder and president of b8ta and Interim co-CEO of the Toys ‘R’ Us joint venture. "As the retail landscape changes, so do consumer shopping habits. But what hasn’t changed is that kids want to touch everything and simply play."
Tru Kids says that outside of the U.S., it operates Toys R Us, and Babies R Us branded stores and e-commerce sites through licensing partners in more than 25 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Bloomberg News first reported the news of the store closures.
With the Associated Press