Friday, May 29, 2015

Farewell to FAO Schwarz

I was a little sad when I heard the news. FAO Schwarz's flagship store in Manhattan will close its doors on July 15. When we visited New York City last November, stopping by this famous toy store was high on our list of child-friendly activities in the Big Apple. It wasn't hard to convince the family. "Hey kids, lets go to a TOY STORE." They probably thought some alien took over their mom since I usually drag them to see Buddhas or cathedrals on our vacations.

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?

FAO Schwarz
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.


  1. Oh I was sad when they closed the store in Seattle. This is even worse! (Hope you saw my response to your comments on the cruising posts as I think you'd love this cruise line's options for those countries. I had noted that some guests got off in Cochin India and went to the Raj and then rejoined the ship in Mumbai; we spent two nights in Yangon on our own on land in Myanmar and some spent the night in Petra and others headed to Jerusalem - all on their own or with ship's tours. Great variety of options!

  2. I sure hope they come back. That is a place I have always wanted to visit but may not get a chance now that they are closing. Love your muppet!

  3. I've only been to NYC without kids so I never went in to this iconic store but I would feel the same if Hamleys in London closed. It's the oldest toy store in London and the first place my kids want to go to each time we visit the city even though there are bigger and better shops around. I hope FAO Schwartz finds a new home and survives this crisis.

  4. OH! I'm sad they're closing the 5th Avenue store. Being there at opening time has been one of our holiday highlights on two separate trips to NYC. My girls even got the Big piano to themselves on two occasions - which were totally memorable moments.

  5. We just visited last weekend. Your pictures are truly great but to be honest I don't really share the sentiment about this store:) and now as they are about to close, there is even less magic.

  6. I have heard about this store (or brand) but weren't sure what they were in business for (and yes, I have seen the movie Big but didn't realize the piano was in the store). So sad to hear about the closing looks like a wonderful place to have fun. Andddd..... I think you Muppet looks like you.

  7. I hadn't heard FAO Schwarz is closing. How sad. I'm with you on this one, I wanted to play the big piano. Thanks for linking up with weekend travel inspiration.

  8. I just returned from NYC and heard the Times Square rumor as well. Fingers crossed. I will always think of the movie Big and the giant piano! :)

  9. I don't know of this shop personally but it sounds similar to Hamleys in London and I have so many fond memories of that place that I know I'd feel sad if it closed down and imagine this must be similar. Loved your intro bit about how pleased your kids were to be taken to a toy shop rather than a cathedral or Buddha ☺

  10. I am so sad and shocked by this. If you hadn't written about it I wouldn't have known (been really out of the American news loop lately).

    I visited when I was 16 years old and the Experience (with a capital E!!) was so surreal, like stepping into a film set. I'm going to go obsessively read over every article now to find out what's going to open there now and why they closed. I suppose it has passed its time and perhaps the rent is too high.

    Tomorrow on my blog I'm hosting a new travel post linkup #REASONS2TRAVEL with Chasing the Donkey, The Crowded Planet and other great bloggers. I would LOVE to have you linkup any of your travel related posts. It is open all month and we're going to support bloggers through twitter and by featuring different posts each month.

    It would be great to have you ...and your muppet there!

    Angie from reasons to dress, fashion, travel and life as a mom in Italy.

  11. Looks like a great place with lots of memorable experiences ... hopefully will can bounce back.

  12. WHAT! They're closing?! Darn I wish I had known so I could have gone one more time. That muppet is pretty awesome though. That was definitely one of my favourite parts of the store!

  13. What a bummer - the harsh reality of a recession I suppose. I'd love that box of nerds myself!!

  14. I didn't know they were closing! We were just there in February - should have taken the time to take more photos!!


I read each and every comment. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Comment moderation is on, so your comment may not appear immediately.

Web Analytics