It’s been all fun and games at FAO Schwarz but the famed store will shut its doors Wednesday after 29 years on Fifth Avenue, becoming the latest iconic city spot crippled by rising rents.
Options abound for shoppers seeking the latest toys, but no brick and mortar store or digital domain could possibly compete with FAO’s prime location, New Yorkers said.
“It’s such an important part of a New York City childhood,” said Michael Sugarman, 20, a student from the Upper West Side as he walked past the store at Fifth Avenue and East 58th Street recently. “When it closes, it’s going to be like a part of my childhood is going with it.”
The original FAO Schwarz began operation on East 14th Street in 1880, after the Schwarz brothers decided to consolidate their two stores. It moved to a handful of locations throughout the next century before finally arriving at the 60,000 square foot space in the old General Motors building at 767 Fifth Ave. in 1986.
In May, FAO Schwarz announced its closure, citing “the continuing rising costs of operating a retail location on Fifth Avenue.”
Toys R Us, which owns FAO Schwarz, said it is actively looking for a new location in the city, but didn’t have any more specific details. The company declined to comment on a report in the Commercial Observer that said it was in negotiations to reopen in Times Square.
The store made a name for itself thanks to its elaborate kid-friendly decor, a staff sporting costumes such as the toy soldier garb worn by the porter and a robust collection of stuffed animals, among other features.
Jon Henry, 24 of Midwood, a toy demonstrator at the store, said FAO management emphasized a welcoming environment over bottom-line sales concerns.
“A lot of what they were pushing us toward was just being nice to the customers and interacting with them, so that created a really relaxed environment,” he said.
Eli Bosnick, a representative for Marvin’s Magic, which sells magic toys at the store, seconded that assessment.
“There are employees there who’ve been there for ten or twenty years, who’ve changed the way that a toy is demonstrated. It’s just filled with people who belong there,” he said
Customers said the friendly environment kept bringing them back to the store, even in the digital age.
And it’s more than just millennials who will miss the store.
Juliette Backer, 5 of Brooklyn, said she got her “Build-A-Bear” teddy inside the store and was sad that it wouldn’t be around to help fulfill her future wish list. “It’s fun! I want them to stay so all the kids can have fun with the toys,” she said.
Of course, FAO’s profile grew thanks to movies such as “Big,” the 1988 comedy that featured its iconic floor piano in a famous sequence, cementing its status as an indelible part of the city.
It’s precisely that sort of attention that inspired tourists such as Kashir Jugav, 48, of Thailand, to add FAO Schwarz to their must-visit lists in New York.
“When I heard it was closing down, I came over to get my kids something from there to remember it by, so at least they’d have that,” he said while shopping.
Although FAO Schwarz appears to have suffered the same fate as Rizzoli Bookstore, Pearl Paint and Winnie’s Bar, among countless other once essential city spots, hope remains.
“The experience of playing with a toy is something that can’t be replaced by Amazon,” Bosnick said. “I think that’s why the store remains so relevant when the concept of retail is outdated.”