FAO Schwarz Plans New Rock Center Home

FAO Schwarz’s former flagship store, at 767 Fifth Ave. at E. 58th St., at night. | Photo by Ralph Daily/ Wikimedia Commons

BY REBECCA FIOREToy soldier doormen, decked in red with gold trimmings, will return to their new post. That’s right, the city’s most iconic toy store, FAO Schwarz, is returning to Gotham — to a new home in Rockefeller Center.

In 2015, Toys “R” Us acquired the 155-year-old business and closed down its 767 Fifth Ave. flagship store after nearly 30 years at the location, citing rent increases.

ThreeSixty Group, a product development and sourcing company working throughout North America, bought the toy store in 2016, and according to the Commercial Observer, has signed a deal to replace the NBC Experience Store at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

The new store, set to open next fall, will be significantly smaller, at about 19,000 square feet, compared to the old space, which was 61,000 square feet.

Christopher Byrne, content director for TTPM.com, an online consumer research resource about the toy industry, said the old store had become somewhat of a museum, where people were looking at expensive, luxury toys like enormous stuffed animals and motorized cars, but not actually buying them.

“What did them in was in order to be able to sustain that level of real estate they had to carry Barbie, but Toys ‘R’ Us was selling it way cheaper,” he said. “I definitely think the downsizing is strategic. It’s more about creating that experience than it is about necessarily selling a lot of toys. The ThreeSixty Group has been trying to revitalize the brand as a boutique in other stores.”

Costumed doormen outside the old FAO Schwarz store.  | Photo by Marcin Wichary/ Wikimedia Commons

Most recently, in October, the toy store opened up a pop-up shop inside Bergdorf Goodman — across the street from FAO’s former home — launching itself with a “Return to Wonder” line, including items such as drones, train sets, and plush bears.

Byrne said he finds the location choice interesting and purposeful, since other showcase stores for major brands, including the American Girl Doll Place, the LEGO Store, and Nintendo, also call Rockefeller Center home.

“It’s going to be a major hub for toys and family tourism in the city,” he said of the new FAO Schwarz store. “They are feeding into the nostalgia of the brand. It’s mostly parents and grandparents now that know it was the quintessential toy store. It was the Neiman Marcus of toys. It was an iconic New York destination.”

Many movies were shot inside the old store, including “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” “The Smurfs,” and of course, “Big,” the movie where a young Tom Hanks performs “Heart and Soul” on the large floor piano.

While toy sales have kept at a steady stream throughout the past 15 years, Bryne said, the methods of buying toys have changed drastically, from catalogue shopping to clicking away on Amazon. Either way, less people are actually going into toy stores.

He also said FAO is planning on reestablishing itself as a toy brand. By focusing on its own products, it won’t be competing with discount outlets.

“Potential for profitability is that they will do better on toys that are unique to them,” Bryne said. “If you have a Rockefeller Center lease, you can’t compete on price with a discounter.”

ThreeSixty Group could not be reached for comment. It is unclear whether or not the “Big” piano will be making a comeback.