A video posted to 50 Cent’s Twitter shows him driving on dark New Jersey streets, while a suspicious Sire asks why they’re being filmed. The rapper parks the car and leads his skeptical son into Westfield Garden State Plaza, New Jersey’s biggest shopping mall. A man pulls back a curtain to reveal “Sire’s Toys R Us,” a private paradise featuring the boy’s portrait on giant screens and on the floors.
“You can have whatever you see,” 50 Cent explains. “All of it’s yours so you might as well pick out whatever you want, right?”
“Right,” the boy answers, before loading up shopping bags with Legos, firing Nerf guns with his dad and swinging lightsabers with Geoffrey the Giraffe, Toys R Us’s beloved mascot.
“When I asked my Dad for the “WHOLE Toys R Us Store” for Christmas I didn’t think he would actually do it, but he did,” reads on post on Sire’s Instagram, which is run by his mother, Amber Joy. “Thank you Daddy! Best Christmas Ever!”
Aside from being an unbeatable Christmas present for Sire, the celebrity shopping spree gives the gift of publicity to the newly revived Toys R Us. Saddled with nearly $8 billion in debt and unable to keep up with online and big-box competitors, the company closed more than 800 stores and shuttered its doors in 2018 after 70 years of business, putting nearly 33,000 employees out of work. Now, a little more than a year later, Toys R Us has been reborn, just in time for the holidays.
The comeback is starting small, with just the New Jersey store and one at the Galleria in Houston. But the new stores mark a stark departure from the labyrinthine behemoths Toys R Us was known for; the new stores are just 6,500 square feet, compared to the typical 40,000 square-foot ones of the company’s heyday. New stores are geared more toward experiences than overwhelming aisles, with spaces for events, toy demonstration and in-store play. The New Jersey store even has an in-store treehouse, complete with a doorbell and a spiral staircase. Its anchor brands — Lego, Nintendo, Nerf, Paw Patrol — are on full display, but the in-store selection is smaller than in the past.
“We’re reinventing Toys R Us to make it fun and interactive for kids and parents,” Richard Barry, a former Toys R Us executive who is leading the new venture, told The Washington Post earlier this year. “This is a global brand that is absolutely beloved in the United States.”
In October, Toys R Us announced it was teaming up with one of its fiercest rivals, Target, to jump-start its online business. Through the partnership, shoppers on Toys R Us’s recently relaunched website can click a link to make their purchases through Target, while taking advantage of other Target perks such as curbside pickup, two-day delivery or same-day delivery through Shipt. Target had rushed in to get a piece of Toys R Us’s business after its demise in 2018, (Toys R Us had annual sales of $11.5 billion when it filed for bankruptcy) adding 250,000 square feet to its toy sections and an amped-up toy selection and a partnership with Disney.
The revamped Toys R Us is a joint venture between Tru Kids Brands — which acquired the Toys R Us brand in January — and b8ta, a chain of “experiential” consumer electronics stores. The new effort is being led by Barry and Phillip Raub, the founder of b8ta.
“As a kid, my memory of Toys”R"Us was running up and down the aisles kicking balls and playing with the coolest toys,” Raub said in a news release announcing the comeback. “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. In partnership with Richard and his team, we are excited to bring back Toys R Us in an immersive way, focused on creating a fun and engaging experience for kids — and adults, too."
The company has said it hopes to have 10 stores by the end of 2020, and future locations are expected to be around 10,000 square feet. Other b8ta executives have alluded to the potential for several hundred stores in the future, but nothing has been cemented yet. But after the company’s just-in-time rebirth and 50 Cent’s viral Christmas extravaganza, one thing is for sure: Somewhere, Toys R Us executives are partying like it’s their birthday.