MAKING OUR FIRST ATARI7800.COM BLOG
When I first started working at Toys "R" Us this website was in its infancy. Every day was spent at school, every afternoon and evening and weekend was spent working at Toys "R" Us, and every night was spent chatting away on Atari Age, learning HTML and stitching together what became Atari7800.com. Our web store was a big component of the original site. Some nights I would break down stacks of 2600s and 7800s until my fingers were sore, breaking down parts and screws, separating by condition and placing into parts cabinets. Every component was scrubbed cleaned, and reconditioned. Newly refurbished game systems would be put together "from scratch" using reconditioned parts from my parts bin, tested, and sold with a warranty. I remember Wednesdays and Thursdays would be my teardown days, the weekend would be assembly, Monday nights I would get all the orders together with their games boxed and ready to ship out, and would take everything to the Post Office or my Pak-N-Ship place on Tuesday after school and before work at Toys "R" Us.
Somewhere in the middle of all this nonsense I found time for the Blog. There were Atari sites on the web back then, mostly The Atari 2600 Nexus which became Atari Age around that time, Atari Museum, Atari vendors like Video 61, and lots of sites like this: http://www4.ncsu.edu/~awwatkin/ATARI/Atari.html There weren't a lot of sites delving into "Atari Lifestyle" and that's what I set out to create. It became our core mission and still is to this day.
Taking Atari Orders to the Post Office on Tuesdays
Loading up the car with Atari orders to take to the Post Office or Pak-N-Ship
Every Tuesday I would ship out orders from our web store. Sometimes I would have to make 2 trips!
This site used to have it's own mailing address! It was at the Pak-N-Ship down the street from me
Orders like this were taken to the Pak-N-Ship where they would box them up w/ packing peanuts
Our web store ran from 2000-2004. We sold 2600, 7800, and Lynx, plus some Jag, 3DO & TG items
So all of this is floating around in my head, marinating in my mind while I'm simultaneously starting my new job at Toys "R" Us. I loved Toys "R" Us but hadn't spent much time there since Atari Lynx and TurboGrafx-16 left the store shelves. My high school years were a big void for Toys "R" Us, save the occasional video game purchase, or insanely huge Super Soaker cannon for high school or college hijinks. My first week at Toys "R" Us I was walking around the store trying to see the ghosts of the past, peering through time just a few years back to see the Atari items that were once on the shelf right in front of my face, and thinking of those that had come before me whose job it was to stock and sell 8-bit dreams. I finally stood on the other side of the cage and it was full of Game Boy Color, N64, Pokémon and PlayStation. Super Nintendo "Jr." systems were there along with a handful of SNES "Players Choice" Best Sellers. We had a pile of Sega Genesis 3 systems in the blue packaging. If I squint my eyes, on a good day I could see Atari Lynx, 7800, 2600, NES, Master System, TurboGrafx, Duo, and all the games on the cage shelves. The security cage was always messier than I had expected it would be. Every time I entered the cage I always crossed my fingers and held my breath in hopes of finding just one Lynx game or TurboGrafx TurboChip stashed away. A clearance item that had fallen behind a shelf, lost in a time capsule of messiness and a lack of interest by anybody but me.
The sudden popularity of Pokémon, which, don't forget, had essentially raised the aging Game Boy from the dead, had kickstarted the next generation of portable gaming. Majesco brought back the Sega Game Gear (it was $30!) after being absent from the shelves for several years and re-released about two dozen of the best Game Gear Games. It was my job to put these games in security clamshells and make room for them out on the floor. Game Gear wasn't Lynx, but it was in the ball park, and I chose some prime retail real estate out on the floor to stack these things nicely on the shelf. (If you go back and look at the picture of The Gooch, I placed the Game Gear setup right behind him where the radios were.) I even went so far as to print up some Toys "R" Us signage to place around "R"-Zone promoting the Game Gear's return. For under $50 you could buy a brand new in the box Sega Game Gear and get Columns and Lion King. This actually sold pretty well at the time thanks to my promotion, lots of parents with little pre-K aged children loved it.
The result of all this floating around my mind while launching the earliest incarnation of this website resulted in my "Atari Lifestyle" approach which still guides me today. I don't remember if the world was calling them "blogs" back then, most people called them a "Geocities page" or whatever was on Angelfire. But I got this idea in my head that the first article should feel like a National Geographic Explorer article. You know, the ones that would take you on archeological expeditions through the ruins of ancient Mayan civilizations, or on Safari, deep into the wilderness of Africa, capturing wildlife and evoking the feelings that come with it. That's what I wanted our site's blog to be (I still do) and my first idea was an "Atari Safari" through the wilderness of Toys "R" Us, hunting down whatever legacy could be found of what was left behind by Atari and the era it defined.
I started writing an article titled "The Toys "R" Us Affair: The Influence of Atari Today" and it became the first article on the site. (If you go back to the beginning of this thread and look at the first picture I posted, that was the graphic I had created for the blog entry, almost 20 years ago.) My co-workers in "R"-Zone had quickly become friends. Jared, Jeremy and Trevan were the first guys I worked with and were all avid gamers with an appreciation for classic video games, to one degree or another. I probably couldn't shut up about Atari and classic gaming back then. I would live, eat, breathe classic gaming and I saw my new job at TRU as an extension of this. I think I got them pretty excited too. When I got my first digital camera that same week, it hit me how fun it would be to take it with me on an "Atari Safari" through the store, with Jared, Jeremy and Trevan as "guides" on our expedition to uncover the remnants of Atari's legacy. I asked if they'd like to be part of the article and they were all excited to help out.
After all, a decade or so before, Atari was the fastest growing company in American history and was a tremendous part of Toys "R" Us sales. You'd think that if something made an impression that big on the toy industry, you'd still be able to see remnants of it somewhere. I wish I still had the article. Unfortunately I can't find it and it appears to be long gone. The gist of it is captured in the pictures I've been sharing with you in this thread though. Hasbro owned Atari that year and there were a lot of releases like "Centipede for PC" that year. We collected a lot of the Hasbro/Atari PC games and put them into a pile, you can see Jeremy standing by them in that first image I posted on page 1 of this thread.
N64 Paddle Controller
This is the "UltraRacer 64" driving controller from Performance
Performance was another TRU house brand, like High Frequency and Pavilion
Trevan & I were walking around looking for Atari stuff and I saw this controller.
"Wow. That's just a Paddle controller with more buttons!" I said.
It's more of a driving controller, but the similarities are obvious.
If you take that early Atari aesthetic and extrapolate it forward, this is the result
Trevan Showing Off Pac-Man & Galaga
Trevan is standing in our "PC Games & Strategy Guides" area showing off Pac-Man & Galaga
I've always said these early games are like board games for the TV screen
These games are like Checkers & Chess, they will always be around in some form
This picture was taken before the store was remodeled to the new floor plan
In the background is our co-worker Dong-Je putting back customer returns
Jenny, one of my best friends, worked at the front desk and was in love with him.
Dong was a jerk to her though, sadly. You'll get to see Jenny coming up.
More to come