Like a lot of kids who grew up before the creation of the internet, I spent a lot of my free time daydreaming. One of my recurring daydreams involved myself, a shopping cart, and 5 minutes in a toy store without having to pay for anything I got my hands on. For two lucky kids each year during the ’80s and ’90s Nickelodeon awarded just that opportunity. Children could enter the contest by sending in a postcard requesting entry into the drawing. I never entered, though, because my Mom considered it a “waste of a good postage stamp” and she was probably right given the odds of winning.
The “Nickelodeon Super Toy Run” contest awarded two grand prize winners a 5-minute shopping spree in a Toys ‘R Us or Kay-Bee Toys (1989-1994). When the race started they were given an unlimited number of shopping carts and free reign of the entire store to collect as many toys as they could before time expired. As each shopping cart filled up, the contestant would have to return to the start line and pick up a new cart before heading back out into every other child’s fever dream. Think of it as “Supermarket Sweep” for kids!
Throughout the year, Nickelodeon would run a series of commercials about the upcoming event and jealousy would spike among children everywhere. They’d show footage of the previous year’s event as kids tossed toy after toy into their shopping cart, and even worse, sometimes they’d show the contestant celebrating with the entire haul. It was more than every Christmas present I ever received combined and always filled my head with envy.
Just like on “Supermarket Sweep,” each kid had a strategy. I spent a lot of time honing my method should the highly unlikely event occur that I needed one. In Supermarket Sweep, some would head right for the small but expensive beauty products while others would head to the frozen meat section to rack up big-ticket items… and at Toys ‘R Us you had many options.
Personally, I would head right for the video game aisle. One of my favorite things about old school Toys ‘R Us stores was that after you browsed through the games you’d select a little ticket from a plastic sleeve and take it up front to the “cage” where you’d be handed the game cartridge to take home. The first thing I would do is collect as many tickets as possible and from then on I would be considered the King of Nintendo at my school! This strategy worked well for the kids in the real Toy Run because it takes no time at all, doesn’t fill up your cart, and you’d have a minute or two left over to go collect those awesome Ninja Turtles figures. Speaking of…
I would also often consider heading right for the action figure aisle when the race began. As a kid, I collected Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Dick Tracy, and WWF Hasbros figures and I would have loved the opportunity to get all the playsets, vehicles, and other figures that complete the set. The one fault I considered in this strategy would be that the figures and playset boxes take up a lot of space and you’d have to waste time running back and forth getting a fresh cart. The good news is once the race was over you’d have every toy in the set and as long as you don’t sell them off at yard sales as you get older (like me) you wouldn’t have to spend time and money collecting them all over again (also me!)
Occasionally, some kids would skip the action figures and head for the Micro Machines, Tonka Trucks, or Hot Wheels matchbox cars. If those were the kinds of toys you liked, it was a great decision, but I wasn’t a fan and it always seemed to me that it took too long to get those little boxes of cars off the rack. In a race like this speed was truly an asset. The tracks and playsets for these toys also came in large cumbersome boxes and could easily become a space-waster in the shopping cart.
One particular strategy that drove me crazy was when they’d head right for the bicycle or Power Wheels. These were probably some of the most expensive items in the store so you could rack up some big bucks here… but this wasn’t Super Market Sweep so the grand total didn’t mean anything. The downside to this strategy was TIME. It took forever because some kids would try to wheel several bikes back to the starting line at the same time and would inevitably trip and fall over wasting time. When it came to Power Wheels, they’d get in and drive them slowly up to the front of the store wasting even more time. Before you know it, you’ve got yourself the $250 bike and a few board games and the contest is over. As an adult now, I also have thought… “How many bicycles can you ride at once, anyway?”
It is nice to dream, though. In some bizarro world where I could be transported back to a Toys ‘R Us of the ’90s, I’d head right for the video game aisle and then clean up as many action figures as I could before running out the clock cleaning up the action figure aisle.
What would you run for first? Do you have a MUST have item from back in the day that you would bee-line for? Let us know in the comments below!