A while ago on the Tumblr I posted a series of rambling, go-nowhere tales I called Toy Stories and now you people get to suffer through a few of them. Most of these yarns are spun around the well-worn topic of my aging into this hobby and watching most of the places I used to hunt go away, and tonight is no exception. One of the two Kmarts I frequented as a single-digits child (for those keeping track 3401 W Greenway Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85053) has a big "STORE CLOSING" banner up on it, and I had to go in to see if I could get some 90% off underpants. (This was not to be.) As a bonus, wouldn't you know it, the store is the new record holder of the oldest Hasbro Star Wars toy I've seen in the wild.
Dating back from 1998, several (SEVERAL) $14.99 Jabba's Palace 3-D Display Diorama playsets, arguably one of the most underrated and underappreciated things done during the pre-prequel run from Hasbro and Kenner. The sets were in great shape, and oddly this is an item I see repeatedly at stores going out of business or who just happen to have one or more old toys on the shelves. It was joined by an array of Darth Maul 2012 carded figures, a 2010 Aurra Sing, and some other stuff - nothing too special in the Hasbro department, just some unloved Bot Shots and some Ultimate Spider-Man stuff in the debris of no-name toys, Star Wars Angry Birds, and pink-boxed dollies. (Now that there's a Mars Explorer Barbie, I'd be more likely to buy that than the Angry Birds.)
The other big surprise were a couple dozen Hot Wheels, also dating back from 1998. Being a relatively new fan of the line, I don't buy many of these but I saw a trio of the Express Lane (a shopping cart) and had to snag one - and went ahead and got the Go Kart and Fathom This submarine as well. All of this junk is 30% off, and I was told the store began its going out of business sale about a month ago.
For those of you who have been following me since the 1990s, 1998 doesn't seem that old. It certainly didn't to me, but to put it in context that would be like finding a 1978 12-back figure on shelves next to Playmates' Star Trek line during its 1992 debut. It's exceedingly improbable, but not impossible. This is one of the reasons I'm a big advocate of going into stores whenever you have the chance, simply because even a well-educated, well-traveled toy fan like myself who hit that store up every month (or more) for years never saw any of that stuff until tonight. As much as we complain and moan about how we tend to see the same stuff on shelves over and over again, there's always a chance to be surprised and that's one of the reasons I'm still in this hobby after all of these years. That, and frankly I have nothing better to do.
There have been many closing Kmarts as of late, and while I know a few of you don't have anywhere near you, after this one, there are about six left near me - the closest two of which are about 20-30 minutes from me, and the ones I tend to find the most interesting stuff. This store wasn't one I necessarily remembered super-fondly - as a kid I remember getting a picture book, with stamps you had to lick, of all sorts of sea life like Steller's Sea Cow and various whales, which I started putting together when we were still in the parking lot. Today, many store fronts in the general area are surprisingly still open but most closing Kmarts tend to stay vacant for years. It's unfortunate to see another one go, particularly when they have some pretty great exclusive two-packs due to show up any day now.
Anyway, one last digression - while certainly the oldest Hasbro Star Wars toy I've found at a retail store, it's by no means the oldest toy I've stumbled on. That record still belongs to the Zoids Geruder kit, a 1986 Japanese release that I found at a now-gone head shop-type place called Jutenhoops in 2003. At 17 years old, that was a stunner and will likely the the story I tell you if you ever see me at a convention and try to impress me with your toy hunting skillz. It really is all about luck, being in the right place on the right day with a sawbuck in your pocket.
With all of the Lionel PlayWorlds and Kay-Bees closed, the Targets all having moved to newer or bigger buildings, and Toys R Us and Walmmart being a late arrival to my childhood in Arizona, this Kmart may be the last place from my days as someone young enough to soil himself (legally) to remain open in the modern era. The good Hobby Benches are gone, Captron shall never be seen again, and the shopping mall has gone form being a hub of everything that made life worth living to an increasingly bleak and vacant building filled with increasingly bleak and vacant people, with nary a bookstore, toy store, or music store in sight. I'm really happy to have had the chance to buy a few old Hot Wheels cars well below their issue prices, but this Kmart was a regular stop for me - I bought my Vintage AT-ST there last year. And it'll be gone by the next time I end up in that neighborhood, I'm sure, with the toy section picked over like a rotting carcass in the sun. Such is life.