If you were a kid in 1985 and lived near Spartanburg, SC, the excitement of the holiday season had to be intense! While flipping through Google’s Newspaper Archive recently, I happened to notice that “The World’s Biggest Toy Store” Toys ‘R’ Us opened just in time for the Christmas shopping season that year in Spartanburg.
While my toy shopping nostalgia lies mainly with Hills Department Store, a close runner up was Toys ‘R’ Us. I didn’t get to these toy meccas very often as a kid, as I grew up in small town Pennsylvania and had to drive 45 minutes to the closest Toys ‘R’ Us in Altoona, PA. So imagining the toy superstore showing up in my hometown would have been gloriously celebrated among me and my friends.
I found a smattering of Toys ‘R’ Us and other department store ads in the Herald-Journal from early November to late December 1985. The first is a teaser from November 7, 1985 that showcases the size of the new Toys ‘R’ Us store claiming “you’ll always find more of what you’re looking for.” Notice that they aren’t too specific with their imagery which I would speculate as more of a generic ad for new stores.
Just a few days later in the newspaper, I found the Grand Opening ads. It appears that the store opened on Monday November 11, 1985 but the official Grand Opening was Saturday November 16, 1985. This ad shows some of the toys they initially offered like Voltron, Glo Worm, Wuzzles, and the ALFIE II educational robot.
What really caught my eye was the “Kids…Meet Your Heroes” section! For 2 hours, several characters were appearing for kids to meet which included Care Bears, Wuzzles, Rainbow Brite, Masters of the Universe, and of course Toys ‘R’ Us mascots Geoffrey, Gigi, Baby Gee, and Junior. Wow! If I had a time machine, I’d love to travel back to that day and experience this meet-and-greet myself.
Leading up to the Grand Opening, a couple ads highlighted what Toys ‘R’ Us was peddling as the hottest toys. The “We’ve Got the Hot Ones” ad from Nov 9, 1985 featured one of the hottest toys for Christmas, She-ra Princess of Power and specifically the Crystal Castle. The She-Ra animated series was released in the Fall of 1985 so the toyline was definitely hot.
WWF Superstars figures by LJN were definitely hot (initially released the year before) and 6 new characters debuted in 1985 including Andre the Giant who is mentioned but not depicted in the ad. Transformers were still hot from the previous year and I know Autobot Air Guardian (Jetfire) was a popular toy because my rich friend got him that year. You can also see two classic toys in the ad which are still sold today, Milton Bradley’s Operation and Fisher Price’s Bubble Mower which debuted in 1985.
The “Now Open” ad from November 11, 1985 also shows the specific toys that Toys ‘R’ Us was identifying as “The Hottest Toys at the World’s Biggest Toy Store.” The Cobra Rattler from Hasbro’s G.I. Joe toyline is an interesting choice because it was initially released in 1984. The glorious U.S.S. FLAGG was released in 1985 so maybe they wanted to work their way up to promoting that beast. The Animal truck from Galoob was very hot in 1984-85 and the Glo Worm was popular throughout the decade.
The She-Ra animated series was released in the Fall of 1985 so I’m glad to see her in the ad. Care Bear Cousins, who were initially introduced in The Care Bears Movie, and the Hunga Bunch were both introduced in earl 1985 so those would have been hot ticket items. GoBots has been out a couple years by ’85 which included the Command Center, but what is pictured is not the AT-AT knockoff but the Guardian/Renegade Spaceship that connected with the power suits that were released in 1985.
Toys ‘R’ Us wasn’t the only game in town. Spartanburg offered several department stores that were competing for toy dollars during the Christmas 1985 season. Let’s take a look at some competitor ads at the time.
Alexander’s was a “catalog showroom” chain that had five locations in South Carolina. The stores had a limited selection of items and I assume encouraged catalog orders like Sears. What caught my eye about this November 1, 1985 ad was not just the Knight Rider Power Cycle but similar items that were also sold at Toys ‘R’ Us. First, the Mighty Tonka Dump Truck was selling for $10.97 with a rebate while the Toys ‘R’ Us Grand opening ad (above) had the same rebate but a $12.87 final price. Also, the TBX Three Wheeler, which has the same image in both Alexander’s and Toys ‘R’ Us (above), sold about $18 cheaper at Alexander’s. With all the fan fare of a new store, I wonder if there were some thrifty shoppers that bothered to check other store prices?
Another local retailer in the Spartanburg area was Otasco, which stood for the Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company. In the ’60s it was bought out by McCrory’s, a five-and-dime retailer, which I assume brought more consumer items like toys to their stores. Printed in the November 9, 1985 edition, this Otasco ad showcased several “New for ’85” toys like Sectaurs action figures and Tyco Super Blocks. The Cabbage Patch Kids craze hit a couple years earlier but not that everyone had a doll, Tyco was still cashing on accessories like an umbrella stroller, diapers, and seater. What caught my eye though was a toy I did receive on Christmas in 1985, the electronic Magic Mike robot!
Another leading retailer for toys, especially the electronic variety, was Radio Shack. They may not have had the name brands, but this ad from December 1 has some unique electronic gifts. Of course, remote controlled cars were synonymous with Radio Shack and the Lamborghini Speedster and Wired Wheelie Bug looked like fun. The ad also shows some knock-offs like the “Electronic Sea Battle Game” which is obviously Battleship and “Galatic Man” which was there answer to Transformers introduction to triple changers in 1985.
Novelty radios were always a big deal at Radio Shack and it certainly shows in this ad. The had several “Plush Pettable Animal Radios” including Snoopy, but the “Radio Bot” and Cabbage Patch would have been fun to own as well. At this time, you might have went for the Furry Fox or Budweiser can first as those two were the only ones that featured both AM and FM bands.
Sears was also in town and sporting a fine collection of toys with competitive prices when compared to the other ads. Big hitters like My Little Pony and G.I. Joe are featured with the new Sectaurs action figures and the glorious Hive playset also being offered. Glo-Worm and Cabbage Patch Kids toys and accessories are also shown along with the popular Animal vehicle. And while Alexander’s had the Knight Rider power cycle, Sears showed off the Transformers power cycle.
Back to Toys ‘R’ Us, here are three more ads from December 1985. At the beginning of the month, they were pushing their home computer and video game consoles. Surprisingly, the hot new Nintendo Entertainment System is nowhere to be found.
In this December 9 ad, Toys ‘R’ Us was back to advertising Hugga Bunch and Alphie II. G.I. Joe was featured in the form of the Killer W.H.A.L.E. hovercraft vehicle and Barbie showed off her Day-To-Night look.
And for the late shoppers, Toys ‘R’ Us ran this ad on December 22 featuring nothing but games. Classic board games like Life, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, and Operation are shown with the popular electronic game Simon (full size and pocket versions.) And we also see the Electronic Battleship which was $7 more than the Radio Shack knockoff.
I hope you enjoyed this look back at Christmas 1985 through newspaper ads. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, especially if you remember receiving some of the gifts in the advertisements above.