Toys “R” Us Times Square

December 2, 2011— My understanding of the relationship between Santa Claus and toy stores has always been vague. Television commercials have variously told me that it’s either a competitive situation or a supplier-distributor one. I’m really hoping it’s the latter, because I don’t think even St. Nick could compete with a life-size animatronic Jurassic Park dinosaur like the one at Toys “R” Us Times Square.

Opened in 2001, this massive toy store is three floors’ worth of toys and candy covering a total of 110,000 square feet. Certainly, that by itself is enough to make you want to be a Toys “R” Us kid again.

However, this particular Rus—as they dubbed the retail chain in the movie Free Enterprise and which I’ll call it from here on out to avoid the strange sadness I feel at not have a backwards “R” key—is billed as more of a tourist attraction than a retail establishment. You can do that when you have a working 30-foot Ferris wheel inside your store.

The façade of the building, like the rest of Times Square, is covered in gigantic wraparound billboard that they use for their own purposes or, judging by what was up there when I visited, whoever will help them pay their building lease.

Inside, the three floors wrap themselves around the centerpiece Ferris wheel. Each car is themed with characters from major toy licenses, including, Scooby Doo, Toy Story, Monopoly, those anthropomorphic M&Ms, and Nickelodeon. My favorite car was the nostalgic pairing of the classic Geoffrey the Giraffe mascot with E.T. the Extraterrestrial. I don’t remember ever having an imaginary tea party as a kid, but had I, both of these guys would’ve been high up on the invite list.

Dominating all the things for sale on pegs that we’re use to in toy stores are oversized versions of toys, including superheroes dangling from the ceiling, Clone Wars Star Wars characters perched atop shelves with lighsabers/blasters at the ready, a Barbie dollhouse, Playmobil toys, and the Lego sculptures that are almost too ubiquitous in the world to be interesting these days. I don’t even remember the actual toys for sale because I was too busy marveling at all these home decorating ideas.

But that’s cool, because toys aren’t the only stuff you can buy here. They’ve got candy. And not just in ancient gumball machines like at your and my hometown Rus. They have an entire section dedicated to and themed around Willy Wonka (where you can scoop bulk candy from mushrooms), another around the CandyLand board game, and a third section dedicated to an ice cream station called Scoops “R” Us that will probably go franchise when online retailers finally beat physical toy stores into sad attic toy boxes.

But the Times Square Rus isn’t just a place to sell. It’s also a place to stage. They have a calendar of events that includes visits from famous kid’s entertainers and costumed characters, and any time there’s a big toy release, they often have a midnight madness event, as chronicled here when Star Wars Episode III toys first came out in 2005.

The most amazing part of this (am I still calling it a) toy store, is that tucked into a corner of the third floor, in front of a facsimile of the Jurassic Park gates, is a life-sized, realistic-looking, animatronic Jurassic Park dinosaur.

I would need to commune with Buddhist monks at a secluded mountain monastery for a few years before I could adequately explain the wonder of what it’s like to feel it loom over you while it turns its toothy head and blinks its beady eyes, reducing your self-image to nothing more than meaty prey. I mean, the FAO Schwartz at Central Park might have class, legacy, and a Big cameo on its side, but Rus has the T-Rex that maimed Jeff Goldblum and made us all fear glasses of water.

Now, I don’t know if they do enough retail business to cover the cost of their expensive Times Square real estate, but that’s not the point. The point is that when you’re the “biggest toy store there is” you need a flagship location that’ll have adults trampling children to get inside. And I personally know of at least four that will grow up flatter than they would ordinarily have been thanks to my visit.