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The Problem with “Big Hugs Elmo”

Sesame Street will always be near and dear to my heart. I still watch it from time to time because, let’s face it, those guys are timeless! Ever met anyone who hates it? Exactly. But now, Sesame Street, I’ve got a beef with you. So listen up and prepare for a snuffleupagus-sized rant.

Three words: Big. Hugs. Elmo.

If you’re not familiar with what moms and toy critics alike are calling THE toy of the Christmas season, I envy you. The Elmo we all know and love is a hugging machine now. The little, red fuzzy guy gives hugs, says “I love you,” and sings a happy song about why hugs are awesome. People are going nuts over this Tickle Me Elmo upgrade! The reviews I’ve read all say things like “A great way to cheer up my kindergartner after a bad day!” and “Perfect toy to keep my toddler 100% satisfied!”

Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, Woah. WOAH THERE. Woah.

Are you really that much of a failure? YOU should cheer YOUR kid up after a bad day. YOU should hug YOUR children and show her/him love.

Does anyone else see why this is messed up? Kudos to the toy industry. They’re taking advantage of all the bad parents in the world, the ones that would rather spend $50 on a toy that will provide their kid with all the love and affection they could ever need.

“No Billy, I’m not going to hug you. I have to stare at my phone for a little bit more. Go play with Elmo. I’m sure he has time to love you…”

I can see it now, a whole generation raised by Elmo. Got a problem? Need someone to talk to? Elmo will always be there with open arms to love you. Seems like a good idea, right???

“Billy, are you hugging Elmo again? You’re 38 years old.”

“BUT HE’S THE ONLY ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS ME.”

I agree that toys can indeed be loved, and make you feel loved. But this…. This feels too much like an excuse to ignore your kid. Elmo is a toy, not a parent. We’ve all heard the phrase “I was never hugged as a child…” used as an explanation for depression or erratic behavior. So what if a kid is only hugged by a furry red robot that winds up getting thrown over the fence next to the neighborhood baseball field and torn to pieces by the monstrous dog that lives under James Earl Jones’ house on the other side? (I really hope that joke isn’t over your head…)

What would that do to a kid? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

I’m sure it’s not ALL bad. But it baffles me….. Everybody thinks this toy is so great! Uh, guys, it’s freaky. Don’t let a toy teach your kid how to love. That’s messed up. I love toys a lot. Like a lot, a lot. But…. I just can’t. Someone please, stop the madness.

Brianna Goes People Watching

It’s 11:30 AM. I’m sitting in the Toys R Us parking lot, stakeout style, watching people go in and out. It’s only been two minutes, but I already know this is by far one of the creepiest things I’ve ever done.

Example: old couple parked next to me and hesitated to get out of their car…

Cars. Cars everywhere.

Cars. Cars everywhere.

First of all, this place is BUSY. Not surprising. Christmas is just around the corner. A majority of the cars in the lot are fairly new models, so I’m led to believe that these people have money to spend on toys, or I hope they do. There are a lot of young parents with their children. Interesting. Even at 11:30… I would think toy shopping wouldn’t be on the table until at least noon. But it’s obvious shoppers are getting a leg up on the Christmas shopping. Two women just came out with 4 big bags of what seemed to be Legos, which they put in the back of their GIGANTIC black van. That’s not suspicious…

About half of the shoppers are young parents (or people who happen to be accompanied by children) and half are in the grandparent age range. There’s the occasional middle aged mom, or dad, and one random 30-ish-year-old dude with long hair carrying a brown package INTO the store (but came out empty-handed??). Hm. One thing is for sure. There aren’t any other college students people watching. I’d say I’m a minority in this case.

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One thing I’ve noticed: There are only 4 handicapped parking spaces in this lot. Weird. With such a high percentage of elderly customers, you’d think there would be more. I took a somewhat close spot, and now I feel like a jerk watching all the older people walk clear across the parking lot. And yes, as you’ve noticed, I did take a few pictures. Sue me. (but I’m not entirely sure if what I’m doing is legal, so that’s just a joke. Ha… ha…….)

The customer turnover is pretty efficient. For the most part, people are in and out in 15-25 minutes, depending on what they buy. Most of them aren’t exactly in a hurry, especially since they’re toy shopping at lunch time. I’m guessing they don’t have overly pressing matters to attend to in the near future. But that’s good! All of these people see a need for toys in someone’s life!

A delightful old man in a trench coat....... Okay, this is getting creepy.

A delightful old man in a trench coat……. Okay, this is getting creepy.

Okay, I need to stop taking pictures now because people are starting to notice. This has been an interesting experience to say the least. Now I am compelled to go buy something so I have some sort of excuse if someone calls the cops.

All in all, I’m excited to show up big toy companies. This place is so bland and boring. Where’s the color?? It’s just a toy Wal-Mart! Boring, boring, and boring. Let’s make life a little brighter and a little more fun. It’s harmless. Well, that’s all for this level 99 creeper. Over and out.

Today’s Adventure

I’ve been punched in the face with a few hardcore ideas today. It all started this morning, when I woke up and discovered someone waiting for me behind the bathroom door…
picture269No worries, it’s not possessed or anything. My brother Michael planted this before he left for school. I love a good Furby, but this really freaked me out. In a good way. Kind of. As revenge I hid it for Michael to discover when he least expects it… Mwahahahaha! But this got me thinking…. This could be a game! Find the Furby! When he finds it, it’s his turn to hide it and then I hide it next and so it would go until the Furby either breaks or the hider forgets where HE hid it. But what if I connected this game to the toy store? Every day, hide it somewhere in the store and whomever finds it will get a discount or something! Noting big, maybe a 3% discount? This percentage could also increase if no one finds it for a while (similar to the lottery…….) and it would be a cool promotional thing. Maybe it would encourage people to bring their kids in everyday and search the place from top to bottom? Business is always appreciated. AND IT WOULD BE FUN. Fun is also appreciated…

BEHOLD. WALTER THE DOG.

picture283Excuse the hyperactive creature in the background. I’m here to talk about the dog that the creature is holding. Walter. We met in the toy section of Wal-Mart earlier this afternoon. In an attempt to avoid doing homework, I set off on a quest to study the toy department of this monstrous monopoly to see what was and wasn’t working with the overall set up and toy selection. The first few aisles were standard: Hot Wheels, Nerf weaponry, superhero EVERYTHING. (Seriously, I found a remote control flying Iron Man thing for $70. I thought, “Please. Tony Stark wouldn’t even use this thing as a kite…”) I stumbled upon the stuffed animals. It’s a good thing I spent 20 minutes or more studying each aisle closely or I would have missed the animals completely. They were hidden and they were hidden well. Like Furby.

A small area on a shelf was set aside for stuffed animals. A SMALL AREA. Like Rick Moranis could go all “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” on you and it would still seem dinky. All 20 of the animals were piled on top of each other, thrown carelessly all over the place. And they were $5. What kind of impression does this give off? Are there toys not good enough for you, Wal-Mart? They aren’t even worth arranging? Somebody just threw them on the shelf, tucked away on a shelf below eye level. And they were super cheap. It was so sad… Five minutes later I had the animals arranged neatly, seated upright. Then I got a little OCD and arranged a few more things and put misplaced toys back in their proper spots. Like come on, where’s the respect for the toys being sold? The grocery aisles don’t look like a tornado whipped through! Now, it might just be the Wal-Mart here in Kendallville, but still. Dude. These are toys. What kind of evil person could be mean to a pile of stuffed animals with soft fur and cute little smiles?

Then I found Walter. He was separated from the others, further down the aisle, abandoned, cast aside, left behind when Billy’s mom said, “No. You don’t need any more toys.” (I imagine Billy’s mom is one of those people who smoke cigarettes in the car with their kid sitting in the backseat) I picked him up, but didn’t have the heart to put him in the display I created. So I carried him around as I continued my studying. My findings infuriated me, but I’d rather not get into it today. I could never write a blog long enough to rant it all out….

Long story short, I bought Walter. He is a symbol of my toy store motives. (WALter. WAL-Mart. Get it?) He has this look in his marble eyes that says, “You can do it, Brianna! I believe in you!” At this point, he’s kind of the toy store mascot in my mind. If you ever wander into my toy store, I can guarantee Walter will be next to the cash register. Maybe kids will even know him by name and treat him like a celebrity. There could be more toys like him, perhaps some of my favorites! (but not Nanner…. RIP) Is that a weird thought? I really like toys, guys, so I honestly don’t know.

Today was a good day for the toy store. I got some fresh inspiration, which is good because I’ve been super unmotivated lately. Browsing the toys gave me faith in my ideas, myself, and the possibility of people one day using the tag #FindtheFurby on Twitter.

The Great Doh-bate

 

I discover the difference between the new Play-Doh Plus and the original! Spoiler alert: I compare taste also…

 

(Sorry about the poor quality! I had some technical difficulties… I promise to do better next time!)

Into the Future!

With only a month left in the semester, I’m losing steam. Homework barely gets finished, and studying? Pssh… Why would I study? I have bigger fish to fry. For example, today I spent my Microcomputers class looking at toys and doing blog stuff. Because that’s what really matters. And it’s better than listening to my professor rant about how he hates the government. Dude, if you don’t like the ways things work, do you think yelling about it is going to help?

As long as I make it December 13, I’m golden. That marks the end of the term and the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug which I will be seeing at midnight in IMAX (it’s also the day my youth group is having their advent church service, so it will be an awesome 24 hour period!). After all of this I can really start focusing on toy store things… oh yeah, and save money. I’ll need some of that in the future.

I’m taking classes online next term in order to save on gas (I commute to school 3 days a week) and cutting down to 9 credits (only 3 classes) to free up a little time. The way I see it, I’ll graduate when I graduate. No hurry… In order to keep myself from becoming a total recluse, I’ll make a little “field trip” about once a week and travel to toy stores/specialty stores in the general area. I’d really REALLY like to make a small documentary for every trip because who doesn’t love a good video? It’ll be great to see what other stores are doing and talk to the owners to start networking.

But that’s not all, folks.

Black Friday is coming soon. Very soon. I’m thinking that I should take advantage of some sales and begin Operation Modern-Day Toy Research. That’s right. Brianna’s gonna buy some toys. I’ll review them and give you guys my honest opinion. Be prepared, I can be ruthless. Just ask me how I feel about the newest Superman movie…………..

The plan is to familiarize myself with the industry, with what’s hot and what’s not. Because toys are important and they’re well worth the time.

Spread the Love

As much as I try to deny it, I’m a people person. I love interacting with others and getting to know them… It’s the people I already know that I can’t stand…..

But in all seriousness, I love people. All people. Most of all I love helping people in any way I possibly can. It makes me feel good! I truly believe that God wants me to serve Him by serving others and I’m cool with that. It’s one of the reasons I love my job and I love going to school. Every day is a new chance to lend a hand to someone struggling and show them a little love, maybe even restore their faith in humanity. I don’t expect anything in return. In fact, I don’t WANT anything in return. That would cheapen the deal. I don’t buy into the “you scratch my back, I scratch your back” philosophy because that’s pretty low. If everyone had that mindset, would any problem get solved?

Charity is very important to me. It’s another major motivator behind my grand toy store scheme. I realize that I will witness many examples of “bad” parenting… You know those parents, the ones that yell at their kids to “behave because you’re embarrassing me!” Please, lady. You’re embarrassing yourself. Leave the kid alone. On the other hand, I’ll see lots of spoiled kids who will demand a new toy and demand it NOW. So how do we prevent this? Put an emphasis on giving back to others. I plan to partner with local organizations and donate toys to children in need. I’ll also encourage my customers to do the same… Sort of like a year-round Toys For Tots deal, with a drop-box in the store, but it wouldn’t be limited to Christmas time. No, we’re talking day in and day out. Some people would probably argue that donating toys is a waste, that that money could be spent on more useful things like food. I’m sorry, but a child who grows up below the poverty line is robbed of their childhood. They have to grow up quickly and miss out on so many things… but happiness should not be one of them. Everyone needs an escape, even a child.

So if a kid who is fortunate enough to live above the poverty line sees someone put a toy in the donation box, how might he or she react? “Mommy, what’s that box for?” “What do you mean they don’t have toys?” “Why are they so poor?” “Can we buy a toy and put it in the box?” or something along those lines. It would be really cool if I offered a discount with the purchase of a toy that you’re going to donate. I got this idea from TOMS, the wonderful shoe company that donates a pair of shoes for every pair purchased…

Like I’ve said before, kids are the future. What happens to them today affects who they are tomorrow. One day these kids will be in control of the world, so why not teach them to use their powers for good?

I’m Not “Playing” Around

When I tell people that I want to own a toy store, they immediately assume I mean antique toys. I’m thinking specialty toys. Stuff you can’t get just anywhere. Antique toys aren’t out of the question though…. Some specialty toys are super old, or they’re replicas of antiques. Some toys wouldn’t exist without them! Where am I going with this…?

Okay. So if you were looking for a unique toy, the PERFECT toy, where would you go? Duhh, the Internet. You can find ANYTHING online. That’s how I got my light-up R2-D2 lunchbox. Amazon is successful for a reason. But what if the toy you ordered isn’t what you were expecting? It could be in pieces, damaged from the gorilla-like hands of a savage postal worker. Maybe it’s just no fun, or not as fun as it seemed. OR, you have the same problem that comes with online dating: what you were expecting and what showed up on your doorstep were two completely different things. Sigh. Forever alone… Er, forever looking for legitimately cool toys.

The best toy stores let you play with a toy before buying it. You get to see how it works, get a feel for it, and make an educated decision. It’s like buying a car. You wouldn’t shell out 10 grand based on some crappy pictures a guy posted on Craigslist. At least, you shouldn’t… You’d want to see it in person, get a look under the hood, and take it for a test drive. So why not test drive a toy?? It would help reduce buyer’s remorse and ease parental hesitation.

“Billy, are you SURE you want Mr. Walk-and-Talk Teddy?”

“Yessss, mom! I HAVE TO HAVE HIM. Pleeeease?”

And then Billy discovers that Mr. Walk-and-Talk Teddy has a creepy satanic voice and moves unnaturally fast. If Billy had played with it before buying, he would have had one small emotionally scarring experience rather than developing a lifelong fear of teddy bears.

Also, encouraging in-store play would make the toy store environment more fun. Some parents might disapprove of the thought of children running around being HAPPY of all things, because back in their day they had to walk uphill both ways for 15 miles in a blizzard to be happy, and that was ONLY after they finished their dinner and respected their elders.

What kid wouldn’t want to go to a store that lets you touch the merchandise? It’s like a free Chuck E. Cheese, minus the pizza and robots. When I was a kid, there was a toy store in the mall that let you play with the toys. I remember going there just to play! Don’t get me wrong, we bought a ton of stuff there, some of our coolest toys to date! But eventually the store went out of business, which is sad. I find myself wishing that I could go back there and talk to the owner. This store is the main inspiration for my own store… the way a toy store should look and feel.

 

 

I don’t want to sell toys, I want to sell an experience.

Captain’s Log

Okay ladies and gremlins, it’s time for a status report. As much as I would like to rant about Gumby or Rubik’s Cubes or some toy-related, childhood memory of mine, it feels necessary. This is day #9 of my little quest and I’m very happy with my progress so far!

Yesterday I stumbled across The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, an organization that I can’t wait to join! I’ve contacted them with a few of the many, many, many, many, many, many, MANYYY questions I have, and hope to hear back from them soon. This feels like a big stepping stone, like, this is actually going to happen!

Also, I’m getting some amazing support from family and friends (and readers like YOU). It’s super cool to know that people believe in me and my dream. I can’t thank you enough. It will be a long road, but I’m prepared for it, especially if there are plenty of people who are watching my back.

On the other hand, I had a negative experience today, which is to be expected…. Not everyone is positive, right? I shared my toy store plans with a customer at work today. This guy was from out of town, I think he said he lives somewhere near Manhattan and apparently that’s a big deal. Don’t get me wrong, he was psyched about the whole toy store idea. But when I expressed my eagerness to stay in the community, he turned into the Incredible Hulk’s judgmental twin brother.

“If you run a toy store and you want to compete with Wal-Mart,” he said condescendingly, “you’ll have to jack up your prices… You’re going to need to be in an area that can afford it. If you start this business here, you will fail.”

“My main reason for staying here is to help kids in the community, because they are the future,” I replied.

“If you want to help the kids, become a therapist.”

Ummm, okay. Thank you, mysterious drifter who knows NOTHING about the area, who knows NOTHING about me, who knows NOTHING at all. Like really, what the heck? Can you please go away? Because you’re raining alllllll over my metaphorical parade and quite frankly, it’s as annoying as your tacky boot-cut jeans. Seriously, 50-year-old men shouldn’t shop at Buckle. No. Well sir, when the store opens, you’re entitled to a lifetime supply of “Eat Your Heart Out” coupons. Have a nice life.

I know it’s a risk. I know that. And I know I’m young. But this is what I’m supposed to do. This is my future. See ya there.

An Ode to Lost Toys

 

Flashback. Summer of 1999. Garage sale season. My older brother and sister are free to roam our housing addition looking for gently used, fairly priced treasures. One day they return with a stuffed banana for yours truly. I die of happiness on the spot.

Just to clarify, I love bananas. Not only are they my favorite pizza topping, but to this day my father only refers to me as Brianna Banana. Only. He’s called me Brianna like twice. Bananas have been part of my identity for as long as I can remember, so this stuffed banana, or “Nanner” as it came to be known, was the coolest thing I had ever seen. This toy didn’t light up or make noise. It couldn’t talk or move. It didn’t even have a face. But I loved it.

Tragedy struck.

We moved in 2002.

I never saw Nanner again.

I don’t know if it got left behind, abandoned in a random corner of an otherwise empty house… or if it’s still in storage somewhere, smashed at the bottom of a moldy cardboard box. The possibilities are endless, each one more painful to comprehend than the last. It wasn’t just a fruit. It was a friend….

You feel me, don’t you? We all have a lost toy sob story. They really get to me. The mental picture of a lonely toy with no one to play with it… I might actually cry. It gives me that punched-in-the-gut feeling.

OUCH, RIGHT IN THE CHILDHOOD.

It’s amazing that a toy can make that kind of an impression on a person. That’s another reason why they’re so important! So don’t buy just any silly old toy for a kid. You never know how it may impact them. And please, please, PLEASE, take all the necessary precautions to prevent losing a toy. Save the world some heartache. Never let a toy leave the house. I don’t care how much the kid cries and yells. DO NOT give in. The screaming child will thank you someday. Not really, but you’ll be saving them from mixed feelings of regret and confusion later in life. You think I’m kidding? I never kid, kid.

Toys are supposed to be loved. Keep them safe.

 

In loving memory of Nanner the Banana and all missing toys.

Lost, but never forgotten.

Beanie Babies: Cultural Crack

Unless you lived under a rock in the mid to late 90s, you’re probably familiar with Beanie Babies, the stuffed animals that ruled the decade with an iron, bean-filled fist. Half the fun was collecting these little guys! Each “set” contained 2 or 3 of a certain type of animal, each one in a different size, small, medium, and large. Attached to each one was the iconic, heart-shaped tag proclaiming their name (usually some type of pun), birthday, and a short, semi-educational poem about the animal.

I remember my sister freaking out that she just HAD to get the large purple platypus, or “Patty” as her name tag specified, to complete the platypus set… We were serious about our Beanie Babies. I almost died when I got Sparkles the unicorn. A friggin UNICORN, guys. Sparkles was such a big deal, her tag came with a plastic case for protection. For whatever reason, I decided she didn’t need the protector so I put it on a different Beanie’s tag, which I regret now. Because there’s nothing worse than a Beanie with a bent tag. That’s a crime.

Me and Sparkles are BFFs

Me and Sparkles are BFFs

At the moment, I have about 80 Beanie Babies in front of me. This is only part of the collection that I can find offhand, so I’m guessing we easily have more than 100 floating around the house. In our defense, almost half of these are Teenie Beanies, smaller scale Beanies that came in Happy Meals. It seems like every month for 3 years straight Beanie Babies were the Happy Meal toy at McDonald’s. But a new month meant a whole new set of 10-15 that had to be collected! One month, we were specifically unhealthy and managed to get 2 of each toy, one opened and one left mint in the plastic wrap. I suppose it was my sister’s idea to keep one set untouched, but still, we were KIDS. What a weird thing to do… But something about these little guys made them addicting…. You always needed more. Like crack. I even traded a few on the playground.

Beanie Babies were very diverse. They weren’t limited to stereotypical stuffed animal “animals” like puppies and bears. One that sticks out in my mind is Prickles the Hedgehog. Yes, he’s cool enough to have a plastic tag protector as well. But really, how many hedgehog toys do YOU have? Excluding Sonic, of course.

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Spinner the Spider, Tusk the Walrus, Pinchers the Lobster, Scoop the Pelican, and Miles the Camel are just a few non-conventional animals that make me stop and think…. Why don’t we have toys like these anymore? Fun, simple toys that have absolutely noooo purpose whatsoever. There’s just something different about them that makes them appealing to a child, or toy-collecter.

Anybody who was anybody bragged about their Beanie Babies. And that was totally normal. No one questioned why the world had a sudden obsession with miniature stuffed animals. After all, it was harmless. No questionable messages being sent, no brains being washed. Just toys. Just fun.