Friday, March 30, 2007

Danbury Fair: "Reinventing a Classic"

"Reinventing a Classic": Macerich welcomes guests in on the enthusiasm of their redevelopment plans for Danbury Fair Mall.

Late last year the Macerich Company announced, marking the celebration of the then 20-year Danbury Fair Mall, a plan to undergo, like many other of their decades-old centers a long-overdue redevelopment project over the course of 2007. Some of their centers will be receiving radical redevelopment which seek to literally blow the top off the center (including one which hopes to disassociate its largerly clone status to Danbury Fair with a new lifestyle identity at Freehold Raceway Mall), while some, like Danbury, will go for a richly traditional, mild cosmetic makeover. The mall, one of Connecticut's unique, wide-open, indoor shopping malls, was constructed and completed in 1986 in tribute to the Danbury Fair Grounds. At the oversight of former ownership; Wilmorite Company, who was acquired by Macerich just a few years back, Danbury Fair has dodged significant renovation efforts remaining largely original to the late 80's design but mostly tones.

Well, it's 2007 and Macerich has a campaign: to Reinvent [what they call] a Classic.

A widely-public artist rendering now on display at the mall will seek to add many interesting touches to a primarly 80's draped mall as one can see. Amongst many things attributing to the overall decor, the center and food courts will see the most flash; in particular the central court will be reworked entirely for additional seating and lounge space and coffee kiosk, replacing the common Wilmorite-era "olympic-sized" fountain which has basked proudly in the center since opening.

As we reported just a few months ago, Danbury Fair is also to receive a largely updated facelift including what they claim will become a "panoramic" food court, new paint and flooring, while hanging onto some of the center's mahogany tones along most of the currently bland white along the center's walls. One unsurprising update will also include a removal of the soulful center fountain, which will become an downscaled, updated "water feature".

So, yesterday, I took a crunch-time drive to Fairfield County on a wonderful (albeit windy) afternoon to see how the renovations are coming along not having seen much since my last trip in January 2007. The center, which aims for a tenative Spring 2008 completion date, hasn't broken too much ground (literally) just yet, but seeks to do so, and it shows, in coming months as our exclusive images show.

Astoundingly, the signature fountain was on showcase today where onlookers would sip Gloria Jeans within a cafe-style overlook from displaced table sets from the currently redeveloped food court. Much of the progress was on the down-low; Filene's was still vacant but promises a new experience, some of the manual zig-zag staircases with accompanied planters on each end of the center are now gone, in the process of reworking with a possibility of escalators.

But the greatest absence, and what appears to be the earliest breaking ground, is evident in the now half-walled-off food court area, which will soon hold the most of Macerich's ambitious restructurings with a "panoramic" style arrangement where guests, to an emphasized degree, would be able to chat, relax a little. The open-airy food court, like most of the center itself, historically accompanied by the landmark Danbury Fair double-decker carousel, and a continuing effort to include it, along with a cacaphony of usually crowded surroundings, will hope to promote a conversational atmosphere within the prospects of the remodel.

Construction in front of the Macy's anchor includes a removal of the zig-zag staircase.

Away with the brown-and-green hues of the past. Primary mall anchors; Macy's, a conceptual original which entered the mall roster in 1987 and Sears, who opened with the mall, will be the first areas to feature the brightely contrasted, admittedly smooth new tiling.

Manual staircases removed. The center might seek escalator access, which there are already a few featured throughout the mall's runway corridor stretch.

As reported earlier, there are currently no plans for exterior renovations like this respective era Sears and midget-block parking lot lighting who anchored the Danbury Fair Mall since 1986.

We hope to do monthly reports to closely track the status of a beloved Connecticut mall. Jack Thomas has also done a recent update with some images of the center at night (alluring!) on his page Retail Stories Dot Com. Until then, go shop Danbury Fair Mall before they change their rapidly adapting-with-times image. All images were taken March 29, 2007.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Way Back Westfarms

Usually I'm not overt about the celebration of my own birthday. So I'll allow this comical image of Adventures of Batman & Robin from Sega Genesis convey the mood (although I don't currently wish to see any metropolis in flames)! Crispin Glover should be playing The Joker in an upcoming Batman movie.

So a buddy of mine, Marc Bramhall, extended the courtesy by presenting something of interest to me for my twenty-second birthday; a piece of relevant history. What better way to extend my 22nd year on earth to look back on one of the cultural influences of my lowely Farmington life such as Westfarms?

Scouring eBay one day, Marc stumbled upon this vintage Westfarms post card, presumably predating to sometime in the mid-to-late 1970's around it's conception in 1974. A post card of a mall you say? Well, here's a testament to lost times and how much shopping malls and centers were the pride of American culture when my generation's parents were my tender age. Sadly, you're not going to find these like post cards of malls in any rest stops or [gasp] gift shops. Instead you might find one antiquated stock image of the Hartford skyline with some bad MS-paint job of the city's name written in magenta, a park (not Kinney Park I'd hope), maybe a bridge or something (as usual, clogged with all day and night traffic). All cultural divide aside (and "rising star" kerplunking), booming indoor malls of the 1960s and 1970s are been-there-done-that today; most of which have since submerged into the commonplace of everyday life of my product Gen X'ers. Kids today! They just don't appreciate these climate-controlled centers of past!

Westfarms; circa 1970's

Just look at this image! Oooh, to have a time machine... It's sure nice to see some oddly justified twin-totem polls featuring minature globe lighting the central of the walkways instead of those gaudy kiosks! Many natives who've frequented the mall in the past might take particular note at this time machine shot for minutes trying to inspect every pixel of it and compare it to the place we know today. One of the most alluring aspects, beyond the now-removed fountain are these certainly out-of-this-world store frontages which are all sadly long-gone within the alpha years of the mall. Have times changed or what?!

From the top-left; Susie's, which looks be a women's clothing store is now Cache; a prom-dress merchant, whose recently drawn live-model publicity. Herman's World of Sporting Goods; seen in the left corner, which was likely one of the last sub-anchors, and top of its game before any Sports Authority, or Dick's showed its face. A memorable, quaint sporting goods chain was among the last seen here to leave the mall in the mid-1990's;
shortly before the 1996 Nordstrom wing expansion (and the company's own bankruptcy by this time). The former Herman's has changed its [preferably lacy, stringy] underwear many times but most recently to none other than Victoria's Secret.

Sights-Sounds; neighboring Herman's, likely a record (and 8-tracks!) vendor, seems to have cut into Herman's space since is now part of an expanded Victoria's Secret, relocating from a former downstairs configuration from the '90's. Downstairs to the left is Bakers; presumably another clothing store and next to it, with some time-respective, multi-window display facade since decimated by huge glass panes of Godiva chocolates today.

Thom McAn
; a frequent shoe store chain (along with Kinney Shoes, who was upstairs near G. Fox) around the 1970's throughout the 1990's save since sold their stock to Wal-Mart, once had prosperous storefronts now occupied by Build-a-Bear Workshop. Susan Terry has become likewise upscale twenty-something women's fashion boutique; bebe while Brooks; hiding behind the jagged manual staircase with those curvy showcase windows has since become drywalled over having recently been home to a bevy of stores; seaonsal, Sephora (since relocated), and a ill-fated filler sports memorabilia store.

Those others; Worth's; with a groovin' brown facade and flower-shaped bulb-lighting must've catered to the hip crowds and the nearby The Gift Showcase; both with the swanky script writing have since become many things in it's subdivided form; once a maternity outfit and Polo Company Store but now all home to a generational revival; Abercrombie & Fitch.

Flashforward: Westfarms; September 2006

One of my grandest laments, in particular, is the absence of the fountain today. Those who remember the fountain remember not only it's wonder but also that mysterious gaping hole into nowhere where all the water recycled! Well at least that's what we thought as kids (and a little beyond; the mystery still lives). In 2002, Taubman ceased and removed the original atmospheric 1974-built fountain in favor of more, rather questionable spaced seating and couches for people to carry on mall banter.

The stage, frontage to the since gutted fountain, is present at Connecticut's other Taubman; Stamford Town Center, has become a table-and-couch lounge area which complements the new Starbuck's kiosk. An area which once displayed the ginormous, annual Christmas tree, still does a holiday theme, not quite to the same magnitude.

While the center court hasn't changed drastically beyond
some minor cosmetic enhancements like most leftover Taubman malls still around: the removal of some of the signature Taubman "seating pits" like one seen here to the left which is understandable given the climate and failed socio-experimentation of the seating pit since. Others include newer, brighter center court tiles, plastic-ridged lining over the mid-levels, reflective silverish railings to replace the wood; all of which became a coming millennial template for all their centers no more than a short decade ago. The basic mold of the center is quite the same; generally unchanged, like the terrazzo tiling, and true to the classy earlier design.

Knowing my bend and fascination with '70's-era Taubman malls but specifically the junior one in my hometown; Westfarms. I've seen the mall adapt through the ages throughout my time, not quite as much as friends and family. My father also worked here shortly sometime around the vintage of this postcard (1975), in a department store Silverman's; since occupied by Brookstone and The Discovery Channel Store. Furthermore, my best friends' parents actually met here, dated and later married during a time this mall had a movie theater (now occupied largely by a restaurant; California Pizza Kitchen)! While I've only been here since '85, Westfarms' tenants have changed greatly into the widely preserved mold of the center today; not having stripped too much of its origins.

"A regional retail development to be the most complete marketplace of its kind in New England. Westfarms site spans the boundaries of three outstanding Connecticut communities; West Hartford, Farmington and New Britain."
This card appears to be within a series of two known; one of which has been displayed on Malls of America (and a day before my girlfriend's birthday last year) and taken at an earlier time when the mall had an estranged, short-lived green-clad flooring and features the since removed the iconic "information" tower doning the pinwheel "W" logo which lasted into the 1990's. There are some other noticable differences here; flowers, mini-bulb lit towers, and even a art display on the stage which is closed off by a roping barrier and a walled-off Lord & Taylor wing added in the early 80's.

In the meantime, I'll have to recover a picture of that "rolling ball structure" in it's respective time since it's still here. Here's to hoping one of you keen-eyed, razor-edge memory readers can pinpoint the exact year of this card.

Visit our Flickr set and see why Westfarms couldn't look any classier today.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Toys "R" Us Design Timeline: 1970's-1989

The Caldor Rainbow has been doing an extensive amount of research and evaluation on Toys "R" Us store history. Through the help of The Ames Fan Club forum members and Microsoft Live Earth, we've been able to study and compile a fine array of unique information about an iconic chain of American toy stores.

Our primary goal with this extensive case study is, apart from preserving the golden ages of the company, is to give you alternative information and original on-site imagery you’re not going to find anywhere else on the internet.

My own passion for finding these stores; ones which resemble the company's now bygone well-known look: brown-roofed and rainbow-striped stores, is the focus. While there are a good handful still out there, by each passing year, the company catches up to these stores, most of which have or are becoming swept up by remodels. Those special stores still out there, still largely untouched by time (or any hapless repaint or remodel jobs), must be documented and preserved before they are gone.

Toys "R" Us eventually emerged from an umbrella of department and specialty stores called Interstate Stores, who owned two chains of toy stores by the late 1960's; one was Children's Bargain Town U.S.A. and the other Children's Supermart. The latter also went by the name of "Toys R Us," which had come from Charles Lazarus' store of the same name. Many of its later incarnations across the country would soon bare the name Toys "R" Us into a household, American icon it eventually became. When the umbrella of Interstate collapsed, the immensely successful toy stores, specifically Children's Bargain Town U.S.A. were all united or rebranded under the banner of "Toys R Us" by 1974. Read all about the companies' histories on Pleasant Family Shopping and their expose.

Many pictures shown here are mostly recent, from 2006 and 2007, from a few remaining, older looking locations we've visited including Woburn; Massachusetts, Clay; New York and Horseheads; New York. We hope to visit more in the future, and expand our travel scope to enhance our resource.

We will begin at this time though there are many stores that began as early as 1970.


Brown Roof, Rainbow-Striped (1970s-1989)
White, Bright & Tiled (1990-1995)
Concept 2000 (1996-1998)

Blues For Jeoffrey (2005-2006)
Time For Childhood (2007-Current)

“Brown Roof, Rainbow-Striped Era (1978-1989)”

A typical, original template design Toys "R" Us store (

Charles Lazarus, founder of Toys "R" Us Inc., began a nationwide sprawl to launch his unique toy store chain. In the beginning, and short path to fame, stores began popping up as contenders and anchors in shopping centers sizing at around 45 to 50,000 square feet. It wasn't long before Toys "R" Us became a parent's bane, in a good way of course.

Brown Roof, Rainbow Stripes
By design; the original stores comprised of what's been referred to as a "toy castle" motif; multiple-layered brown roof, typically shingled though some contained lined steel, with three to four accented fortress-esque ripples over the face of the building. Below contains an array of vibrant rainbow or multi-colored vertical stripes often described as if to project a "curtain" facade; red, blue, yellow and green-striped wooden planks covering the entire frontal façade of the store revealing a few rectangular or box-shaped windows along the frontage. The roof would include the company signage in like multi-colors and an orange-brown (or black) toned sculpt of the company’s long-established mascot, Geoffrey the Giraffe. (Below is the latest rendition and variant of a typical store).

CLAY (7517); located in Clay, New York aside The Great Northern Mall. Built in 1988, this store is true to a typical original store design in the latest variant (taken August 2006).

Blue, Red, Green, and Yellow; the original rainbow-striped facade which draped the front of the earliest stores up until 1989. (Clay; August 2006).

After dark, the building's stripes would become illuminated with the help of lighting under the scaffold roofing (Horseheads; January 2007).

Exterior Model Variants
Upon observations, we've discovered there were a few different iterations of the original style used from their beginning up until 1989. Broken down into TYPES, each is slightly different while they all follow the same basic traits; a brown-roof, rainbow-stripes in their varied fashions.

TYPE A: The original stores built during the 1970's which were not entirely unified by design but had the common traits of a mansard-style rippled brown roof and vertical rainbow-stripes along the building frontage. Stores found would contain as many as five rippled roof layerings and anywhere between two entrant ways on the front, one enter and exit often nearby, clearly labeled. Underneath the entrance would often contain a box-shaped sign containing the "Children's Bargain Town USA" name.

Some of the earlier stores had original or conceptual traits within them like the Catonsville, Maryland store, which contains a "glass-encased tunnel" spanning the front of the store. Different rainbow-striped paneling is even seen on one such, remaining store, the vacant Anaheim/Garden Grove, CA, which is likely a much earlier type. Woburn, Mass.; built in 1979, contained a scaffolding over the sidewalks, an idea not widely mass produced after 1979.

Pleasant Family Shopping has posted a picture for a typical earliest store model, circa early 1970's.

Beginning as early as 1980 throughout 1984, this variant was fashioned within an "L-shaped" scheme and where built with focal points focusing on the building's corner or split, presumably to garner more roadside eyesight and traffic. The rainbow stripes would wrap around the building within the "L"-pattern, with as many as two adjacent nearby entrant ways on the building's longer "L" frontage and continuing stripes along the shorter part of the L, which would serve as the building side, often containing an additional logo. Stores are also well known to have had additional "peaking" or box-shaped glass-skylit exits ways distant from store frontal entrances, typically on the longer part of the "L."

Type B has also been known to contain a thinner roof
façade, continuing with as many as four ripples across on the long portion of the "L"-pattern though not exclusively so. These were also the last years stores would see "Children's Bargain Town" signage over the entrance. (Reference: York, Pennsylvania, closed Lansing, Michigan)

Seen as early as late 1984 until 1989, this design was one of the more finalized template-styles, modified from original stores over the years. These were the first eras to contain a protruding building vestibule or mini-lobby area where candy and item machines might be stored along with excess shopping carts. Within these lobby areas would contain up to one or two frontal entrances and a side "Exit Only." (Refference: Clay, New York)

: A sub-variant of TYPE C which was was also a slightly larger featured version. Stores contained often longer roofs, protruding vestibule from building, often contains scaffold and adjacent sidewalks. Also known to be typically larger stores some with inclusive Kids "R" Us additions. Unveiled sometime in the mid-1980's or presumably 1986-1987. (Reference: closed Battle Creek, Michigan and Horseheads; New York).

Some of the earliest versions of the store were often less adherent to the variant styles presented above. Many of these were located in shopping centers (see "1980’s Expansion Boom; Proximity to Shopping Malls") and may or may not adhere to the "strip mall" conformity. These original locations were typically a mesh between established variants "A" and "B" like Woburn, Massachusetts and Catonsville, Maryland which features a kiddie-corner design and a distinct glass-encased tunnel comprising the entire front of the store (essentially contains all of the attributes of all the variants). Not all stores may fit a precise variant type, but will typically bend towards one emprical type. (credit: Daniel "D_fife" Fife for Catonsville).

WOBURN (7506); located in Woburn, Massachusetts and one of the first Toys "R" Us stores in the state features a "conceptual" original look with rare scaffold, and taller roof ripples not found on many later stores (July 2006). Woburn has since repainted to a primarily blue-striped look and has removed the "Exit Only" sign as of late 2006.

HORSEHEADS (6363); located in Horseheads (West Elmira), New York across the Arnot Mall. Built presumably in the later 1980's, this mammoth-sized store contains an expanded roof and scaffolding as well as a Kids "R" Us inclusion. Horseheads has since repainted white-striped as of late 2006. (January 2007).


The original Toys "R" Us model included basics that would later become models for future variants; an "Entrance", "Exit Only" and often orange-black colored sign with Charles Lazarus' original slogan perched above the entrance doors: "The CHILDREN'S Bargain Town" found on the earliest stores. Above the entrances was the "TOYS 'R' US" logo and a plexiglas cutout of Geoffrey to the left (and often, later found to the right) of the store name. The original Toys "R" Us channel lettering colors consist of "T" (red) "O" (yellow) "Y" (light blue) "S" (pink) "R" (lime green) "U" (orange) "S" (rich blue).

A store model as seen in a commercial from 1978.

Orange-brown toned “Entrance” signs and rainbow-colored “Exit Only” signs were typically found on store gateways. Stores built throughout the early and mid-1980s came complete with an early portrait of Geoffrey over the “Entrance” lettering as well while some later stores left them absent. The original "The Children's Bargain Town" slogan retained itself in the same orange-brown tone, typically found over the entrances of "L-shaped variant" stores but became absent additions on many stores built after 1985.

Many road pylons or street-level signage were, like the stores, brown-shaded background with a colorful palette, often featuring an enormous Geoffrey sign over the lettering. Many have been removed today, yet some still remain but in newer shades. There were a few known variants; some with the lettering all across, and some with Toys-R Us on two and even three lines in a square-shaped sign (as seen briefly in the "Power of Love" opening sequence of "Back To The Future").

There also appears to be subtle differences in the colors of the channel lettering found on older stores versus new. While the original suggests a traditional rainbow palette, another was unveiled; T (red), O (orange), Y (dark green), S (purple), "R" (yellow), U (light green), S (light red/pink). Upon the late 1980's, there appeared a pastel-themed version of red, cyan, purple, yellow,
orange with a lime green "R" which appear on some of the many 1980's stores and red, yellow, cyan, yellow, orange tones by 1988, 1989.

There's also known styles of the channel lettering arranged in a "spaced" fashion, typically found on early 1980's stores and many "L-shaped corner" variants, where the individual letters were slightly spaced apart.

A typical old-styled "Entrance" sign featuring Geoffrey portrait (Clay).

"Entrance" sign without Geoffrey (Horseheads).

A typical rainbow-colored "Exit Only" sign (Woburn). Source: "Mark" claims this sign has since been removed.

An unusual, very early "Customer Pick Up" sign (Woburn).

A common, 1980's Customer Pick Up sign (Clay).

A typical older road pylon (Horseheads).

An updated road pylon still featuring early 1980's-era Geoffrey (Manchester, New Hampshire). The Manchester store, built in 1980 has since remodeled in 1992 from an original "L-shaped" variant.

Brown Building Stripes
Along the upper and lower edges of the building, typically lined around the entirety of the store, some of which having vertical stripes. When remodels went into effect as early as the 1990’s, most stores repainted the stripes, favoring silver to complement the brighter shift dictated by the newer era.

Brown stripes lining the upper and lower building (Horseheads).

Glass-Encased Exits (TYPE B Only)
Exclusive to the "L-shaped" variant stores used around the early 1980's were glass-encased, solarium-style vestibules used as primary store exits, found distant from the main store entrance(s). Most were scrapped quickly with newer era remodels, beginning in later 1984 models. Like the aformentioned Manchester, New Hampshire store, some where removed post remodeling, while some held on like one store in Bay Shore, New York store and Milford, Connecticut stores.

A leftover glass-encased exit which current exists from a since remodeled, former "L-shaped" store in Milford, Connecticut (6326).

Geoffrey Through The Years
As years went on, Geoffrey’s projected image displayed on stores and in media has changed a great deal and has varied over the years. The basic elements have been there through each redesign; orange and brown tones, antennaes, large lashed eyes, and an unforgettable "oh golly!" expression. Having origins from a realistic image; Jeoffrey is a confirmed male character, and in earlest ad spots, he is seen along with his wife (figure, partner) and daughter (who are also giraffes). However, his image became morphed into a more feminine, playful to an ultimately cartoony look by the latest years with other minor traits made to look more "loose-fitting" such as sloppier hair, and circle-shaped spots apart the "wavy" motif look on the version seen on the Clay store. Historically, there are many different iterations of Geoffrey with most of them either removed or replaced for the latest one (seen on the Woburn store).

Geoffrey's building-side imagery, noticably implicit corporate move to shift the focus off a lesser-focused appeal of the long-time mascot for unknown reasons. The phase-out began as a slow cancer beginning with the removal of associations on the store's exterior within each redesign or era. In the later 1980's stores, the Entrance portrait was removed for simple text. Geoffrey plexiglas "emblems" found on stores next to the company signage was finally stripped away on Concept 2000 remodels, beginning in 1996. All the older locations documented here still currently use the widely phased-out Jeoffrey signage, most of which are actually ones leftover from the 1980's.

As of 2006, the company used their most realistic, cynical sounding Jeoffrey yet most appearant in television ad spots baring resemblance to the real animal. As of late 2007, the company recognizes the importance of Jeoffrey by including him cartoonized, once again in the redesigned store logo in commercials.

One of the typical older designs (Clay).

A brighter, feminine appeal (Horseheads).

A cartoon appeal unveiled in the 1990's (Woburn).

Many early stores mainly consisted of typical warehouse-style ceilings, supermarket-style aisles and were often criticized for being low-lit and rather compact. Through the years, this changed to suit the needs of customers, but many stores like Clay and Horseheads hearken back to the common feel of the stores then. The store in Horseheads was a gem beyond being held back in earlier eras, having original rainbow colored paints on walls; the colors of Toys "R" Us on the left side and the bolder shades on the opposing side for Kids "R" Us draped along the walls with accompanied store logo. Much craftsmanship is no more; phased for blue and yellow streaks, which have since been phased for even brighter colors along the white lines.

A richly-preserved interior containing rainbow colored wall mural to the foreground of current day shelving and hanging signage (Horseheads).

"Pull-Ticket" System
One staple artifact of Toys ‘R’ Us stores was their almost marriage-like bond with Nintendo and their untouchable Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) throughout the late 1980s and most of the 1990‘s. The sale of a vast, often unmatched selection of the console’s software kept their sales peaking and notoriety amongst a changing, video-gaming inviting market lively. Frankly, Toys “R” Us was the place for video games among the target audiences of mostly younger child-to-teenager market while today‘s spotlighters for this market, like GameStop, then Babbage’s (and Electronics Boutique / EBGames / EBX, who was recently bought out by GameStop) were once flocked by core computer-centric enthusiasts.

An antiquated "World of Nintendo" video game aisle featuring ticket slips (Clay)

One aspect of their presentation in selling video games, apart their double-line aisles of games was their “pull-ticket” system, which inarguably worked incredibly well for the company. The pull-ticket system included an array of game cover scans encased in plastic flaps with a ticket or paper slip underneath the product containing the price and later the rating of the game. One would take a ticket of desired quantity, bring it to the counter to purchase, whereby after a clerk would fish around in a separate backroom and the customer would later pick up their software at the front of the store just as they were ready to leave the store.

Glass casing displays higher-priced video game hardware (Horseheads)

While it’s still used today in some stores, the ticket slip system has been mostly phased out in favor of the Concept 2000-prompted ‘R’ Zone' at most locations by the turn of the century. The system is still used here but on a modified scale; primarily for game consoles, items of the sort are generally kept behind glass-shelving visible behind the counter like most video game retailers. All video game transaction is taken care of inside the “R” Zone department, no longer having customers wait until the finality of purchase to pick up which caters to convenience above all.

An aisle featuring ticket slips (Horseheads).

Other Happenings In This Era

1980’s Expansion Boom; Proximity to Shopping Malls
When Toys "R" Us began in 1978, the company was basic about stores placement; putting many in outdoor shopping centers. Likely due to the rise in their own notoriety and shopping mall trends and directly competiting with Child World and Kay Bee Toy & Hobby inside malls, Toys "R" Us entered the company’s golden age of expansion; a strategic trend moving in across (almost literally) most regional shopping malls, often in their own properties while some moved into centers adjacent to malls. The move quickly took effect but was almost essential by 1980 and continues this tradition today, though mainly with Babies "R" Us stores as the chain is focused on remodeling and reworking older locations. The chain is well known for having snatched up prime locations for its stores as those are ones to stick around today, despite the wave of closures in 2006.

Kids “R” Us (1983-2003)
Established in 1983, Kids “R” Us was introduced as a clothing-line subsidiary and sister store to Toys ‘R’ Us stores. Trafficking mainly in softlines; clothing, shoes and other related appeal for children, the company aimed towards quality and value, offering brand names and exclusives carried today in many Babies "R" Us or merged Toys "R" Us stores.

The chain birthed and opened in Paramus, New Jersey in lieu of the company’s expansion in the early 1980’s, when stores began popping up everywhere. Strategically placed within a certain general area, sometimes sharing space right next to of the Toys “R” Us brethrens, and mostly had their own originally constructed building variants.

Most early Kids “R” Us stores were like their Toys R Us brethrens; contained mainly brown colors, and bolder colored circular racetrack-like stripes around the entirety of the store's entrance and display windows. Later stores unveiled in the 1990's featuring stacked block windows and a more grandiose-looking format.

A once three-year vacant Kids "R" Us store standing beside an active Toys "R" Us in Manchester, New Hampshire (built in 1981), since demolished for a Nissan dealership, had received a white paint job under it's original brown.

A former Kids "R" Us in Springfield, Massachusetts has plenty of vestige as a Namco Pool Store today.

In 2003, all remaining Kids “R” Us stand-alone store fronts shuttered, ceasing the brand almost completely in favor for a more profitable and rising interest by consumers in Babies “R” Us, which would later occupy some former locations not in the area by then. The company’s loses caused Kids “R” Us stores to be sold off and/or converted and rebranded in response to a booming generation into the much more successful Babies “R” Us, which centers closely around infant and toddler-aged furniture and accessories once carried in smaller quanitites by both Toys "R" Us and Kids "R" Us.

A former Kids "R" Us in Corbins Corner in West Hartford, Connecticut since occupied by Office Depot. Label scar and triangular "Entrance" signs still visible.

Most other stores were sold to other retailers like Office Depot and Petco, leaving existing Kids “R” Us notoriety and brand to be combined with existing Toys “R” Us stores shortly after their closure, which had been already lost volume in response to financial purge. Today, Kids “R” Us still exists by name, mostly within Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us parent and/or hybrid stores. The name as a whole still quietly exists, but is slowly being replaced by Babies "R" Us.

Worldwide Exp-Japan-sion (1984)
In 1984, Toys “R” Us expands into the worldwide market seeing it’s first store in Japan. The company currently claims “643 toy stores in 32 countries outside of the United States, including Australia, Canada, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom.” (

The last known year of the store’s original look appears to have been 1989; when the company was fizzling from a vast season of successful expansion. Stores within the original image are still around today but are extremely rare as most have since reformatted into variants of fringe post-2000 favored designs or have seen the brunt of minimalist remodels or "cheap", safe, solid-colored paint jobs. Many of the brown-roof, rainbow-draped stores might've showed their age by 1989 and years to come in a few respects; difficultly to maintain, trends changing. These stores conveyed the magical nature of just what made Toys "R" Us itself unique, colorful and candiful to the eye; aspects retail trends vastly stray in seas of white, bright, safe and borings of today.

Here's a list of the latest confirmed stores dead and alive still hanging on; some of which have received paint jobs or minor enhancements, ultimately still original looking, lacking remodeling.

CLAY (7517)
Clay, New York
Year Built: 1988
Variant: Type C
Road Pylon: No
Resembles exact model from Bangor, Maine (1989). Last true original remaining in New York.

Horseheads (West Elmira), New York

Year Built: 1987 (Unconfirmed)
Variant: Type CX
Road Pylon: Yes; brown-pastel lettering
Repainted to white stripes (late 2006).

WOBURN (7506)
Woburn, Massachusetts
Year Built: 1979
Variant: Original, close to Type A
Road Pylon: No
Repainted to blue stripes (late 2006). Last original remaining in Massachusetts.

BANGOR (7519)
Bangor, Maine
Year Built: 1989
Variant: Type C
Road Pylon: Unknown
Features repainted white roof, still has rainbow stripes.

Catonsville, Maryland
Year Built: Around 1978
Variant: Type A
Road Pylon: Unknown
Features repainted white roof, and a distinctive glass "tunnel."

YORK (8310)
York, Pennsylvania

Year Built: Unknown
Variant: Type B
Road Pylon: Yes; Toys "R" Us/Kids "R" Us sign; white colored.
Features an oddly off-colored grey-black Jeoffrey. Contains white "Entrance" sign, placed in a former "Children's Bargain Town" placement. Also contains "Exit Only" sign above glass exit. Last original store left in Pennsylvania.

Picture was found on Webshots by user.

Bloomington, Illinois
Year Built: Unknown
Variant: CX
Road Pylon: Yes; Toys "R" Us/Kids "R" Us sign; part brown-pastel (Toys "R" Us), part white (Kids "R" Us)
Contains unusual variant; two entrances on building frontage, skewed to the edge. Picture found, taken in January 2005. Google Maps satellite imagery confirms. Stripes have been repainted white.

PORTAGE (6072)
Portage, Michigan
Variant: A
Road Pylon: Unknown
Store is located within a strip plaza. Stripes have been repainted blue.

Topeka, Kansas
Year Built: 1985 (?)
Variant: Type C
Road Pylon: Unknown


Boardman, Ohio
Year Built: 1985 (?)
Variant: Type C
Road Pylon: Brown/Pastel

Saint Clairesville, Ohio

Year Built: 1985 (?)
Variant: Type C
Road Pylon: Brown/Pastel
Stripes painted over white.

Moline, Illinois
Year Built: 1985 (?)
Variant: Type C
Road Pylon:
Stripes painted over white.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Year Built: 1985 (?)
Variant: Type C
Road Pylon:
Stripes painted over white.

Durham, North Carolina
Year Built: 1984~5 (?)
Variant: Type C
Road Pylon: ?
Rainbow stripe/planks removed

Roanoke, Virginia
Year Built: 1986
Road Pylon: Box-shaped
Rainbow stripes repainted blue

Currently Vacant

Garden Grove, California
Year Built: 1970s (?)
Variant: Type A
Road Pylon: Removed
Closed in 2002. Currently vacant as of June 2007. Here's the vintage old road pylon, since taken down. Picture taken by Flickr member.

Euclid, Ohio
Year Built 1985, closed 2002. Currently vacant.
Variant: Type C
Currently boarded up, signage removed. Contained "Concept 2000" star "R" logo before closure. Aside equally dead Euclid Square (Mall) area.

Battle Creek, Michigan
Year Built: 1986, closed 2006. Currently vacant.
Variant: Type C
Site claims it was renovated in 2002 but still seems resembles original style in Inquirer photo (See below). Was coupled with Kids "R" Us.

Battle Creek Inquirer (2006)
Intell Property Group

Daniel "D_fife" Fife of Chris Fontaine's Ames Fan Club forums, again, is my greatest ally in preserving these stores with his vast collection of images (some linked here) and information on the Toys "R" Us page. Because of his and many others' pictures, I am able to compile and locate stores furthering in concise information and theories.

Dead Euclid

Jen Owens, a fellow Blogspotter, and her fascinating webpage on the dreary haven of dead retail phenomona; Euclid, Ohio. There just happens to be an infamous, dead, out of time Toys "R" Us there looking post-apocalyptic looking too.

Photo Albums
Toys "R" Us; Horseheads
Toys "R" Us; Woburn Revisit (July 2006)
Way Back Woburn (April 2006)
The Great Northern Adventure (Clay, New York)
Flickr: "Great Northern Mall" (features Clay store; May 2007 update)
"Rainbow-Striped Milestone" (May 27, 2007)

Do you know of a Toys "R" Us still within the original mold in your area? If so, please inform us!

Last updated: February 10, 2008.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lowe's And Behold; Appeal For An Orange Derby Shopping Center

The aging process has not been true to the terminal Orange Derby Shopping Center.

Situated on (CT) Route 34, New Haven Avenue; en route to New Haven, located in a somewhat collapsed but hubristic "Connecticut's Smallest City" of Derby (the "downtown" is in the midst of some post-war torn look), just on the Orange line. The Shopping Center, which has been a long companion of the town, at least since the 1960's, has been withering away for decades and just recently became a near ghost town when plaza anchor Big K-Mart shut its Derby location down within the 2003 wave of closings within the state of Connecticut.

The Orange Derby Shopping Center is an active example of ill-adapted shift in the retail market over the ages which inevitably finds a victim - and frankly this one that has not adapted well with the times. The plaza, heavily marred with crackled, wavy, and uneven pavement certainly doesn't invite beyond it's heavy vacancy rates, seagulls (the unproclaimed bird of "the dead mall"), and a rest stop for truckers.

Having opened with Zayre; a discount department store who later folded under once rising rival Ames, not renewing it's placement in this location in the late 1980's. K-Mart, who most recently occupied the location left by Jordan Marsh, a department clothier, who opened shortly after the demise of Zayre closed all it's mostly mall-stationed anchor stores in 1996. K-Mart, according to a reader, found sanctuary after being displaced from a fallen Ansonia Mall in nearby Ansonia. After three-plus years of post-K; deteriorating, vandalism, and graffiti at the long-stationed shopping center, once neighbored by a Service Merchandise plaza in it's heyday will soon be completely demolished for yet another soulless, cookie-cutter retail cloner, Lowe's Home Improvement.

In the retail zodiac, 2007 is the year of the Lowe's.

Lowe's Home Improvement plans to occupy space currently and soon to be no longer held by the Orange Derby Shopping Center namesake. There are no plans if the future tenants will opt to remove the antique and characteristic road pylon which has been not only greeting those passing through Derby, but also a literal beacon for the residents who live behind and around the shopping center. There's good chance the sign will not be salvaged beyond Lowe's construction.

A once housed "Garden Shop" during the Big K years.

While stats continue to show Wal-Mart to be the top retailer, Lowe's has been creeping in more so in the top ten than it's competition around Connecticut. Lowe's has been quite well known, like its fellow rising retailers, for sweeping up many vacantly troubled retail sites and shopping center in the past few years, cleaning up much of the collapses of the end of the millennium which include many now long-gone retailers of the northeast like Caldor, Bradlees and even most recently Ames.

Entrances to one of the more unusual, non-original K-Mart stores.

A now rare design leftover variant from Zayre which included an overlaping, stucco facade and a gapped central where entrances are placed.

Just recently, The Caldor Rainbow has reported numerous new Lowe's stores coming this year on a few years vacant retail sites including one in Torrington on the site of the town's oldest plaza, Meriden; on the site of a four-plus year leftover from Ames. Stores have been popping up all over the place along with other rising retailers like the continually successful Wal-Mart, Target; who's continuing it's northeastern expansion, Kohl's and Home Depot to name some of the biggest players.

A mostly silent strip of shops hurt by the closure of major anchorage.

The New Haven Register reports the property owners are hoping for two more buildings in addition to Lowe's and their accompaning garden center. Upon Lowe's announcement, late 2006 and early this year, remaining tenants have slowly leaked out within the horizon of demolition plans. The future plaza does not plan to include the current or recently vacated tenants which include Fashion Bug, GNC, and a handful of smaller-owned shops and bakery; most of which have or are in agreement with the town's mayor for relocation plans elsewhere in town.

There's also no word on what might become of the two off-plaza restaurants; Burger King and nearby (old-school) Dunkin' Donuts; both of which seem likely to not be directly affected due to their remote locations across a somewhat dreary creek, far outside the central breaking grounds. The newly-revamped site sees a fast food restaurant, which will likely gauge
competition with Burger King .

Lowe's will undoubtably be getting to work very soon, after the hurdling wetlands negotiations are met so anyone who wants to see the plaza in it's last few months alive better get there soon.

The Caldor Rainbow must extend gratitude to one of our readers and New Haven area resident, Loki, who originally informed us about the plaza.

Make sure you check out the complete set on Yahoo! Photos to see more of Orange Derby Shopping Center; taken just yesterday March 12, 2007.