Toys R Us shuts flagship store in Times Square citing costly rent

NEW YORK - For decades, children visiting New York City savoured one stop above all: a trip to the kind of toy store that existed only in their imagination.

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Now they'll have to keep dreaming.

The massive Toys R Us superstore in Times Square, which wowed shoppers with a 18-metre tall indoor Ferris wheel, a growling, 6-metre animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a life-size Barbie dollhouse, had its last shopping day Wednesday.

The closing ended a 14-year-run as a must-visit destination for any family willing to brave the big crowds. It followed the July closing of F.A.O. Schwarz, the palace of expensive and unique toys romanticized in the 1988 film "Big."

Shoppers and tourists came out Wednesday for a last look at the type of extravagance unavailable to shoppers online or at the local mall.

"It's a one-in-a-million type of place," said Janet Roman, of Berlin, Connecticut, as she gave her 9-year-old grand-nephew, Sherman Williams, his first - and last - tour of the over-the-top store. "Our Toys R Us doesn't have a Ferris wheel in it."

A steady stream of people coursed through the 110,000-square-foot space smack dab in the heart of the Crossroads of the World. Shoppers rushed to buy must-go gifts and games. Others took photos outside. The truly ambitious waited on a long, winding line to get one last ride on the Ferris wheel.

"When they were little guys, this was the big thing," said Mike Packer, of Wayne, Pennsylvania, whose 18-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter decided, for nostalgia's sake, to take a final spin.

"This is like an event to come here. It's an afternoon," added his wife, Lisa Packer. "It's obviously fun for all ages."

Toys R Us opened in Times Square in 2001, when the neighbourhood was still only a few years removed from its bad-old-days as a centre for adult entertainment and grime. The company decided not to renew its lease, which expires in January, because of the high cost of renting the space, company spokeswoman Elizabeth Gaerlan said.

Toys R Us also cited high rent costs in July when it closed F.A.O. Schwarz, when had enraptured generations of children in two locations near Central Park.

She said the company is searching for another Manhattan flagship store and will try to find positions for those among the more than 350 employees of the store who want to keep working at Toys R Us.

C. Bradley Mendelson, an agent for the building's owner, Bow Tie Partners, said that at roughly $2,000 per square foot, rental prices for ground-floor space in the area have become extraordinarily expensive - and with 21,000 square feet of it, Toys R Us simply had too much space to cover.

"That's a lot of rent," he said. "Rent has gone from $400-a-square-foot to $2,000 in the last 15 years when they rented the space."

Two retailers, Gap and Old Navy, have signed leases to occupy some of the ground-floor space and other parts of the building and will move in by mid-2016, Mendelson said.

"Here's really the story about why they're leaving," he said. "The rents have gone so high that nobody can afford that amount of ground floor space in Times Square."


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