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.