Friday, October 24, 2008

A somewhat brief and very incomplete history of 1980s ToyStoreSauruses in Denver (by someone who never lived there) part 2 of 2: Lionel Playworld

Denver, Colorado is famous for having assloads of dinosaur bones. It's the place dinosaurs went to die, much like my laundry room is the place toy robots go to die. Denver in the nineties was also fantastic place for uncovering my favorite type of archaeological artifacts-fossils known in roboplasticology as roboplasticus transformus.


Why was Denver such a hotbed of 80s toy robot activity? How did all sorts of crazy roboplasticus transformus get there? The answer is that Denver was a breeding ground for one of the greatest ToyStoreSaurus to have ever roamed the 1984. From 1980 through 1987, seven Lionel Playworlds opened in Colorado with six of them in or around the greater Denver metropolitan area. I grew up in a place where there was only one Playworld and it left in its wake memories of dozens of clearance priced Dinobots. How much better then must Denver have been with half a dozen Playworlds! It must have left behind whole herds of of clearance priced robot Triceratopses!

28 October 198029 October 1980 pg 129 October 1980 pg 2

The very first two Lionel Playworlds in Colorado held their simultaneous grand openings in Denver on 30 October 1980. They were at 6791 W Colfax in the JCRS Shopping Center and 10615 Melody Ave just west of Northglen Mall. The amount of promotion done for the grand opening was staggering. Playworld gave away 1,000 Hot Wheels cars, 2,000 t-shirts, 1,000 plants (for the adults), 500 buy-one-get-one-free Burger King coupons and free tickets to Nuggets and Rockies (the hockey Rockies) games. There were special appearances by Denver Broncos and Nuggets players, Miss Colorado 1980, a magician, a frisbee demonstration and even friggin' Blinky the Clown! There were also big name celebrities in attendance like Frankenstein, Strawberry Shortcake, Spider-Man, Mister Potato Head and Kaycee kangaroo. Not as great as the best toystore grand opening ever, but still very impressive.

This is what now stands at 6791 West Colfax

The third and fourth Colorado Playworlds had their grand openings in the Denver area on 23 October 1986. One store was in the Arvada Marketplace at 52nd & Wadsworth and the other was by Aurora Mall on 14301 E Exposition Ave. The Aurora Mall building is now a Korean restaurant and I filmed VINTAGE SPACE TOAST TOUR DENVERADO LIVE (part 2) there.


Then on 15 November 1987 three more Playworlds opened up in Colorado. I think these would be the last Playworld store openings of the eighties because although I know an eighth store opened in Colorado Springs, I never saw it mentioned in any 80s Denver area ad. It may have opened in 89 because I know it was up by July of '90. This round of openings included stores in southwest Denver at the Southwest Commons shopping center, one in Glendale (an enclave within Denver) at South Colorado Boulevard & E. Ohio Avenue, and finally one in Fort Collins, Colorado at The Pavillion shopping center.

It looks like 1987 was when it all started turning to kangaroo crap for Playworld because I think that's the year one of the original two Playworlds closed (the one at 6791 West Colfax). Their ads stop mentioning that location in '87. Then in 1988 Playworld stopped including weekly color circulars in the Sunday newspapers. Instead, they ran some black and white ads with little reminders that if you want the circular you needed to go to the store to get it. Was this clever marketing meant to get people in the store or could Playworld just not afford to put their circulars in the Sunday paper anymore? Whatever it was, it sucked because Playworld circulars were a great source of Transformers ad line art and by excluding themselves from the Sunday papers they excluded themselves from being archived on library microfilm.


Kaycee Kangaroo took some more bad bounces in the late 80s. Judging from the ads, in 1989 the other of the original two Denver stores closed, leaving them with five Colorado locations in 1990, four of which were in or around Denver. Then when Toys R Us showed up in June 1990 it really fell apart. A new store opened in Colorado Springs but by the fall of '91 Playworld was down to just three Colorado stores when they went out of business. Why they opened that last store only to have it close a year later is beyond me. Maybe like the dinosaurs, Playworld went to Colorado to die.

I will stand in front of anything if it looks like it could have been Playworld


Unlike Children's Palace with its unique architecture, old Playworld buildings are very difficult to locate because they look just like any other brick big box store. So I had a hellacious time in Denver trying to take pictures of the buildings that used to be Playworlds. I tried asking people who looked old and even comic shop employees, but nobody seems to live or work near where they grew up so nobody remembered Playworld. Nobody except for one comic shop employee guy, but the Hobby Lobby location he told me used to be Playworld in southwest Denver isn't even in the right shopping center. Between faded memories and changing shopping center landscapes I couldn't say for certain if any of the pictures I took are of buildings that used to be Playworld. It's bad enough that this Colorado ToyStoreSaurus is long extinct but what's worse is nobody even remembers being trampled by it. But I know you were here, Playworld! Nothing else could explain the assloads of Denver Dinobots you left behind!


Benjamin Meyer said...

Fantastic! Love the photos, keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

lionel was in fact around until late 93 and perhaps even 94. i worked at one in west palm beach, fl and it closed no later than late 93. the earliest memory i have of playworld was early 1977 in charleston, sc. i lived right around the corner from that one. it was a fantastic place to go and nothing today can hold a candle to it. toys r us (for me) was a cheap and distant second place. playworld was fantastic.....i just loved it. went there every other day after school just to look around and brush up against the hundreds of action figures that went from floor to ceiling. if any of you have information on the former whereabouts of ANY lionel playworld please email me. thanks.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Thanks for the memories! I will forward your contact info to a guy named Adam, who is a great resource of Playworld knowledge and the biggest Playworld fan I know. I'm sure you two will enjoy corresponding.


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