Thursday, July 16, 2015

How do you mark the final day of the world's most famous toy store? How else? With selfies!


A scene yesterday from the last day of business at FAO Schwarz in Manhattan -- not a selfie, but an actual photograph, taken by an actual photographer, Reuters' Lucas Jackson

"By Wednesday afternoon, hours before the store was set to shut its doors at 8 p.m., many of the shelves had already been stripped bare of their stuffed animals or games, or else were marked down by fire-sale-like percentages."
-- the NYT's Tatiana Schlossberg, in "Shoppers Bid
Farewell to F. A. O. Schwarz on Its Final Day

by Ken

In all honesty, it was this blurb in the NYT's "Today's Headlines" e-mail that got me to click through to Tatiana Schlossberg's "Shoppers Bid Farewell to F. A. O. Schwarz on Its Final Day":
As the Fifth Avenue toy store was set to close its doors, children and grown-ups took selfies with the safari of stuffed animals that lined its entrance, while others made a beeline for the big piano.
Yes, there it was: selfies! After all, can anything now be taken to exist if you can't take a selfie with it?

"The big piano," of course, refers to "the giant light-up piano that Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia dance on in the 1988 movie Big," and Big seemed to thread through the consciousness of those last-day shoppers.
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.

Dancing on the big piano -- Um, the kid at the far left doesn't look all that enthused, does he?

By the way, the periods in "F. A. O. Schwarz" -- not to mention the spaces -- in the NYT headline (and story) come not from the store name, which is correctly spelled "FAO Schwarz" but from the NYT stylebook, which gets frantic when it encounters acronyms, which in this case it chose to interpret as initials, as if it were referring not to the business but to Frederick August Otto Schwarz, who with his brothers started what was originally known as Toy Bazaar, in Baltimore in 1862. (The first New York store opened as "Schwarz Toy Bazaar" in 1870.) In theory, this relieves editors of the burden of having to find out how the store name is actually spelled, but presumably some very important copy editor still has to decide whether the "F.A.O." is an acronym or a person's initials.


That is, assuming it can be said to be "in business," since it has been owned since 2009 by none other than Toys "R" Us, after changing hands numerous times since the last Schwarz family members sold out in 1963. Toys "R" Us made the decision, announced in May, to close the flagship FAO Schwarz store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan because of rising rents. Apparently even toys priced for the tots of plutocrats aren't profitable enough to sustain skyrocketing plutocratic rents.

Tatiana Schlossberg explains (links onsite):
F. A. O. Schwarz, in one spot or another, has been in New York City since 1862, when the Schwarz brothers opened their first toy store. It has moved around Manhattan a bit — from Broadway to Union Square and back again — landing in its current location in 1986. [As noted above, the 1862 date for Schwarz-in-NYC presence is wrong. -- Ed.]

Toys “R” Us, the chain that has owned the store since 2009, announced in May that it would close on Wednesday, though its lease would not expire until 2017.

A spokeswoman for Toys “R” Us said in a statement that the decision to close F. A. O. Schwarz was born out of the rising rent on Fifth Avenue, but that the company was looking for another location in Midtown for the iconic toy store.

It is not clear where F. A. O. Schwarz’s next home will be, although Toys “R” Us has reportedly looked at space at 1633 Broadway, close to Times Square.
Later Tatiana notes: "Even as F. A. O. Schwarz tried to become part of an increasingly brand-centric market and city -- with kiosks for Legos, 'Jurassic World' and Marvel within its walls -- it still did not command the attention of a generation used to playing with apps and touch screens, conveniently available a few feet away at the Apple Store." While the Toys "R" Us folks shop for the new home of FAO Schwarz the store, the name still graces the website,

As for those selfie-snapping shoppers, here's Tatiana again:
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 F. A. O. Schwarz on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

“I’ve lived in New York my whole life, and I’ve never been here,” 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.”


There's the suggestion that the outpouring of love for FAO Schwartz had to do with the parents, not the youngsters. In the line for the big piano Tatiana found "a group of three mothers, each with a child in a stroller."
“I think it’s as much for us as it is for them,” one of the mothers, Jennifer Saslowsky, said. “They won’t remember this, but at least we’ll have the picture proof.”

All three 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 “F. A. O. Schwarz” written on it as a souvenir — that is, if they could find anything good enough left.
Still, not everyone was transported.
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,” Mr. Davies said.

They had traveled to New York from Britain, and saw on the news that F. A. O. Schwarz was closing. Mr. Davies’s daughter, feeling nostalgic about “Big,” insisted that they come to the store.

“I’d never heard of it before,” he said, adding that he did not find the store particularly impressive, as legendary toy stores go. “It’s got cult status here in New York, though, I think.”



At 10:11 PM, Blogger Doug Kahn said...

I'll never forget the wooden motorboat my grandmother bought us there. Of course that was the original store, before the building was torn down and the glass box highrise went up. And the Stieff hand-puppets!

At 1:01 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Cool, Doug!



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