Iconic toy store closes

Children playing on the Big Piano, made famous by the 1988 Tom Hanks' movie Big, in FAO Schwarz toy store in New York.
Children playing on the Big Piano, made famous by the 1988 Tom Hanks' movie Big, in FAO Schwarz toy store in New York.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

New York's FAO Schwarz moving due to higher rents and patrons almost strip it bare on last day

NEW YORK • The toy soldier guards posed for their last pictures on Wednesday and two rather dejected-looking Patrick the Pups filled the lone rotunda that used to be a mountain of plush.

Children and grown-ups took selfies with the safari of stuffed animals that lined the store's entrance, while others made a beeline for the big piano, or hunted down the perfect toy that they would love forever.

It was the last day of business at FAO Schwarz on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

"I've lived in New York my whole life and I've never been here," Ms Carmen Thomas of Brooklyn said while wheeling her granddaughter Sydney through the store in a stroller. "I had to come see it before it goes."

FAO Schwarz has been in New York City since 1862, when the Schwarz brothers opened their first toy store. The iconic toy shop is moving due to rising rent and will continue to look for an alternative location in midtown Manhattan, a statement last May said. Its owner Toys R Us has reportedly looked at space at 1633 Broadway, close to Times Square.

By Wednesday afternoon, hours before the store was to shut its doors at 8pm, many of the shelves had already been stripped bare of their stuffed animals or games, marked down by fire-sale-like percentages.

Most people appeared to be browsing, taking pictures or nibbling on candy in the FAO Schweetz section, but one employee said many customers knew the store was closing and were making purchases.

A customer, Lydia, who declined to give her surname, was looking for games for her grandnieces. She said the store's closing made her want to cry.

"I used to bring my nephew here and he would watch the electric trains for hours," she said, adding, "You're not going to take away the Empire State Building, so why would you take away FAO Schwarz?"

Even as FAO Schwarz tried to become part of an increasingly brand-centric market and city - with kiosks for Lego, Jurassic World and Marvel within its walls - it still did not command the attention of a generation used to playing with apps and touchscreens, conveniently available a few feet away at the Apple Store.

Patrons showed their sentimental attachment to FAO Schwarz upstairs, at the giant light-up piano that Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia dance on in the 1988 movie Big. Lines swerved into the hallways and other sections of the floor as people waited for their final chance to play on the piano. Each person got two minutes of near-cinematic glory.

Another employee, who was guarding the piano with a red velvet rope, said the lines "weren't too crazy". "And yeah, it gets crazy sometimes," he added.

A group of three mothers, each with a child in a stroller, waited in the line. They said they had grown up in New York and remembered coming to the store as children to play on the piano or get a stuffed animal.

They had not been back until now, but each planned to buy something with FAO Schwarz written on it as a souvenir - that is, if they could find anything good enough left.

Mr Hugh Davies stood on the sideline and watched his daughter, in her late 20s, dance on the piano.

"She's a little old, but we've got to have the photo," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2015, with the headline 'Iconic toy store closes'. Print Edition | Subscribe