July 6, 2005 - Upon recent visits to the only true 'toy store' left in Central Illinois, it has occured to me about what stores use to be like in the good ole' days. No, not all the
way back to the nickel and dime stores. But back to the early 80's and the eras of the Transformers, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, and all of the rest that I can't remember.
Back in the days before the mega Wal-Mart's hit town there were actually three major toy stores in Central Illinois. Toys R' Us (TRU), which has been at the same location for as long as I can remember. Children's Palace, which was a couple of miles from TRU and near another major mall in Central Illinois. The third was Kay Bee Toys (KB), which found themselves inside the major shopping malls around the area. As I recall, both TRU and Children's Palace stores were about the same size in space and storage where as KB had to fit all of its stock into a small auxillary store space in a shopping mall about a quarter of a size of a major anchor.
Children's Palace, which has been defunk for a long time now, was just like the name described, a palace full of toys for children. I remember the most the large section of Matchbox diecast toys that lined the wall of one section as did its then rival Hot Wheels. The store was almost packed to the ceiling full of items from racetracks to other things that companies had made. Both stores also had the same quirk that exists today, one store has one thing where as the other does not, and vice versa. Unfortunately though, the store chain suffered the same problem as TRU is facing today and KB has faced, they went bankrupt and closed up shop. Thus left the Peoria area marketplace to just two other competitors.
Kay Bee Toys, which today is barely surviving by the seat of its pants, originally had two locations near me. One in a local mall and the other right across the street from TRU. KB stores were always packed with seemingly 'leftovers' of toys that if you couldn't find anymore. Old models and what not that I assumed you would have to go to a swap meet or something of that sort to obtain, remember, in these days, there was no 'eBay' or even the internet. Not to mention you had to pay a pretty penny for certain items in the store, a little bit more than TRU or even Children's Palace at the time. But as time drew on, the local store closed due to low sales. Eventually the other store next to TRU closed as well with the recent re-alignment plan of KB to save its self. So the only true toy store left in Central Illinois is...
Toys R' Us. The only toy store in Central Illinois that has stayed. But I fear for how long? Upon recent trips to this location in search of some key items that are supposedly available, I find the shelves empty and in disarray. They used to be a mixture of both styles of the other stores. I used to get most of my Transformers at the time from here as well. I recall my late Grandmother purchasing the Powermaster Optimus Prime for me while she was visiting my family on vacation, one of the most treasured 'bots of my collection.
By, Kevin D. Matthews