Browsing around FAO Schwarz, said to be America's oldest toy store, is an Experience with a capital "E." It's a curious combination of super expensive items that only people with lots and lots of disposable income would consider actually buying (e.g. 60-inch Patrick the Pup plush stuffed animal for $300) mixed with regular toys that are readily available at your neighborhood Wal-Mart or Toys'R'Us.
That Thanksgiving week, the store was packed just after opening time. Two door men dressed as toy soldiers greeted us as we ran up, shaking the freezing rain off our umbrellas. Eager to escape the wet cold, we didn't pause to take the customary photo with them. A constant stream of people made its way in the door and up the escalator, swiveling their heads back and forth to take in the abundance of toys surrounding us. Lack of traffic through the store is clearly not a problem.
|Dancing around and making music on The Big Piano|
Ever since I saw the Tom Hanks movie Big, I've always wanted to play "Heart and Soul" on The Big Piano. After realizing that the movie has some PG-13 scenes, I settled for showing my kids a YouTube video of the famous piano sequence. With their interest piqued, that was the first place my family headed, figuring that the queue would get longer as the day went on. It turns out that you don't get the piano all to yourself. They let about five or six people on it at a time. The resulting sound is sheer cacaphony. Imagine a bunch of toddlers banging on a regular piano, and you'll get the general idea.
As soon as hubby and my girl (and the four other people) were done, an announcement came on that The Big Piano would be closed for 10 minutes for a private party. "Cool," I thought, "I wonder how much that costs?" The private party turned out to be one little girl and her mom who I recognized as reality TV star Bethenny Frankel, founder of Skinnygirl cocktails and a Real Housewife of New York City.
|Life-size Santa made out of Legos|
The LEGO department is right next to The Big Piano. It had some large scale LEGO models including a Santa Claus which I assume is out only for the holiday shopping season. It was a better LEGO display than what you'd find in a average toy store, but the enormous Toys'R'Us store in Times Square had more impressive ones.
|You are what you eat.|
The 4000 square foot candy department, cleverly named FAO Schweetz, had a big selection of treats to tempt your tummy. Oversized boxes of familiar candies, one pound Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, bulk bins of gummies, and novelty foods like SNL's Schweddy Balls (salty peanut butter malt balls) beckon to shoppers of all ages. In the corner, FAO Cafe serves pastries as well as coffee for parents who need a little caffeine kick to keep up with their children.
|Design your own Muppet|
One of the most unique experiences in the store is the Muppet What Not Workshop. Mix and match body forms, eyes, noses, hair and outfits to custom create your own Muppet puppet. There are over 72,570 possible combinations. Luckily for me, we didn't sit at the store working our way through each and every one. Don't get your hopes up about creating Miss Piggy's sister or Kermit's cousin, though. No copyrighted puppets or anything similar to them are part of the collection. Reusable plastic stickers help you put together various combinations. I really liked that the visualization was done with something tactile and low-tech, even though it could have easily been turned into an smartphone app. After you're done designing your Muppet, plan on returning hours later to pick it up.
Do you think my Muppet looks like anyone in particular?
|It's like looking in a mirror.|
Payment ($100 - $125 when we visited) is due when you place your order. If you open a Sticker Design booklet but do not order a puppet, you'll need to pay $20. The muppet definitely fell into the Splurge category, but I felt that the fun my daughter had designing it plus the uniqueness of the product made it worthwhile. According to Fortune Magazine, FAO Schwarz needs to take a cue from nearby American Girl Place and find a way to change its business model into one that charges for more of its magical, in-store experiences that people cherish like The Big Piano which is currently free.
FAO Schwarz has plenty of people walking in its doors but cannot seem to sell enough luxe toys to afford the sky high rent of its primo location along famous Fifth Avenue with neighbors such as Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton. The store has moved around New York City many times in its 150+ years, so this probably isn't the end. It's bounced back before, even after shutting down for almost a year in 2003 after filing for bankruptcy...twice. Rumor has it that a move down to Times Square is in the works. Who knows what departments will be part of the new store? In the meantime, you have a few more weeks to catch it on Fifth Avenue.
Have you visited FAO Schwarz?
This post is part of the following Link Ups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.
- Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox
- Weekend Wanderlust on A Brit and a Southerner, A Southern Gypsy, Casual Travelers, Justin plus Lauren, and Outbound Adventurer
- Weekend Travel Inspiration on Reflections Enroute, The Crowded Planet, Contented Travellers, Albom Adventures, Bay Essence, Safari 254, and Families Go
- Sunday Traveler on Chasing the Donkey, Pack Me To..., Ice Cream & Permafrost, and A Southern Gypsy