One of the questions on many people’s minds following Toys R Us’ abrupt closure had to do with exactly what would become of the buildings that once played host to thousands upon thousands of children and their families. Most probably didn’t suspect that people would try to hold an illegal rave in an abandoned Toys R Us — but that’s exactly what happened at the end of March in Hounslow, West London. On March 31, the Hounslow Police reported on Twitter that a “sound system [had] been seized and several arrests made” following the closure of an “unlicensed music event.” They also made a “Raves R Us” joke, so, y’know, it’s good to know that the Hounslow Police have a sense of humor.
On March 15, Toys R Us announced that the company would be closing all U.S. stores and liquidating its assets. At the time, the fate of the company’s international business remained somewhat up in the air, although the press release announcing the closure noted that the “previously announced administration of the UK business continues.” This administration had begun in February in order to facilitate “an orderly wind-down” of Toys R Us UK's business. Stores began closing; then, on April 12, the Financial Times reported that all UK Toys R Us stores would close by the end of the month.
It was one of the already-closed locations that a few folks reportedly planned to use as a venue for a "massive Easter Weekend rave," according to Variety. The vacant store in question was located at the Bull’s Bridge Industrial Estate on Hayes Road, noted the Hounslow Police on Twitter; indeed, a quick jaunt around Google Street View shows the area to be occupied by retailers like Costco and Tesco, so it makes sense that a Toys R Us might once have been located there, too.
In any event, the rave was not to be: It was shut down before it began, reported the New York Post. The Hounslow Police announced on Twitter that they had “closed down an unlicensed music event on Bull’s Bridge Industrial Estate, Hayes Road, UB2”; five arrests were made and a sound system seized. Attendees and ticket holders were told not to travel to the area, as they would be turned away. It’s not currently known whether any charges have been issued.
Now, as admittedly hilarious-sounding as this story is — and as funny as some of the reactions to it have been…
…One Twitter user did make this important point:
London has been in the midst of a housing crisis for some time. According to a 2015 report from the BBC, the number of vacant homes in London (and the UK in general) is partially a “buy-to-leave” issue, wherein wealthy investors purchase properties, but then neither live in them nor rent them out, and ordinary financial concerns. Said housing charity Empty Home’s chief executive, Helen Williams, to the BBC, “One of the most common reasons that properties are empty is because the owner cannot raise the money to do the property up to let it out, or sell. Perhaps they previously rented it out and it now needs more works done to it, or maybe they inherited it.” And while all these properties remain vacant, housing — especially affordable housing — remains unavailable to the many, many people who need it.
Empty commercial buildings, too, remain an issue. In 2016, the Telegraph reported on the work of think tank Policy Exchange, who found there to be over 500 hectares — more than 1,200 acres — of “empty or underutilized industrial land” in London. If utilized properly, said Policy Exchange, that land could provide 42,000 homes — homes that are sorely needed. At the time, reported the Telegraph, only 27,000 homes were being built in London each year, when the number that needed to be built in order to meet demand was closer to 50,000 — and yet, all of that empty space, which could very easily have gone to housing, was just sitting there unused.
The same could happen to the rapidly growing collection of vacant Toys R Us locations around the UK as the company’s operations in the country wind down. And sure, maybe using the space as a rave venue isn’t the most helpful — or legal — use for it; it’s a reminder, though, that it’s space that can and should be used for other purposes if at all possible.
And, I mean… there’s probably a market for people who grew up with Toys R Us and would love to say that, as an adult, they now live in a building that used to be a Toys R Us. Just sayin’.