Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Behind the Flagship Store

It's been around for 150 years and catering to outsize childhood dreams with no small dollop of sticker shock for doting adults.   I toured the flagship store today -- cheerily greeted by a toy soldier as I entered the wonderland that is FAO Schwartz.  Come to find out the muscle and brawn behind the current store is none other than Toys R Us -- having bought the flagship store, the Website, and the Las Vegas store (now closed) in 2009.  Lock.  Stock.  And Barrel.

How did I miss that?

Not that you can tell -- it's the same old FAO Schwartz.  Some notable differences are the MEGA footage devoted to candy on the first level and the reduced circumstances that Barbie and Ken find themselves in up in a back corner of the doll section of the second level.  It was a paltry selection when it came to collector Barbies (the days of the Bob Mackie Barbie display seem to be long gone) but perched high on a shelf was Barbie as Grace Kelly on her wedding day.  Now that was a dress fit for a princess!

Contrast that with  these two collectibles -- Bride of Beetlejuice and Corpse Bride.  Straight out of Tim Burton's mind on to the floor of the most famous toy store in the world (or at least NY).  They occupied prime, eye-level real estate at the front of the doll section.  If you're wondering about the girl in the pink dress -- that's Disney's Princess Ariel (I always knew she ran with the tough ones).  I think that last one may be Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean.

There is an effort to compete with the juggernaut that is American Girl (that store is located just a few blocks further south on fifth avenue) with various make your own dolls.  And FAO Schwartz now has a Muppet workshop where you can make your own muppet -- way more cool than Build a Bear if you ask me.  There is still the lure of the "Big" piano but no collectible Zoltan the fortune teller that I could find. Hard to believe that Big was released in 1988 -- just a couple of years after I moved to New York city.  How time flies.

Stuffed Animal Dreams
For a summer day in August, it was busy in the store.  Lots of different languages.  Although it did seem like more photo taking than shopping.  I did see a couple of large bags leave the store and the candy certainly was flying off the shelves when I was wandering around that section.  Hard to think about this corner of Manhattan not having FAO Schwartz but it was also hard to believe when B. Altman shut its doors in 1989.

Other than a slim little press release from May 2009, there is nothing on the Website to suggest that the discount toy giant Toys R Us is wizard behind the curtain that is FAO Schwartz.  Although pop up FAO Schwartz boutique's began to appear to Toys R Us stores in 2010 and Babies R Us carries some FAO Schwartz brands, I doubt we'll be seeing the $1,500 Etch-a-Sketch for sale in any of those venues.

As the brand celebrates its first 150 years, I for one am hoping it's around for 150 more or at least until I have "grand" nieces and nephews to take on a tour that includes a stop at the big piano.

Lytro in Candyland
The Lytro continues to amuse me -- including during my impromptu tour of FAO Schwartz.  I've grasped the idea of depth and looking for layers -- that was the easy part.  In regular mode, I do OK but creative is still giving me trouble (bright sunny days continue to be a problem as well).   Particularly at a distance where I think the problem may be that there is usually not enough space between my foreground and my background objects so the living pictures are quite subtle (see Mrs. Beetlejuice or Grace Kelly above as an example).  Practicing in a sweets store was rather fun -- and it kept me from actually purchasing anything (although I've now found a new source for Spree).

Angry Birds, Gummy Birds

A Childhood Favorite

Lollipop Woods



  1. Growing up in Manhattan I spent many happy hours visiting FAO Schwartz with my sister, parents, and sometimes grandparents. There were occasional visits as a teen - including one with my cousin when we wound up as many of the mechanical toys , i.e. the cymbal-bashing monkey, as possible and then away to observe the floor clerk's annoyed expression. As a parent, FAO was a destination to bring my children. Barbie, Remote Control Cars and Legos were favored areas. I am pretty sure there are photos of the kids inside and outside the store.I do remember taking note when the store declared bankruptcy and we made a visit during a time when inventory had been "slashed" and shelves were bare. A very sad sight! It's been a few years and while I have been "in the neighborhood" (popping into the Apple Store) and browsing windows at nearby Bergdorf's, I have not ventured into FAO. I think a visit will now be in order - perhaps this holiday season.

  2. Linda, I don't remember going to FAO Schwartz when I was little. I do remember, vividly, my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary where my aunt got them a suite at the Plaza -- which my grandmother considered the height of fine hotels (as you may recall, they lived in Brooklyn). As for me, what I loved about the Plaza (and still do) was the bathrooms -- free and open to the public and quite handy in mid-town. It always me chuckle -- that arc in our family history from fine hotel to bathroom stop in mid-town. I love taking kids to FAO Schwartz -- although that candy store makes it a bit more daunting. It is HUGE!