Beloved toy store FAO Sch­warz makes New York come­back

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Business - BY VER­ENA DOB­NIK As­so­ci­ated Press

Three years af­ter it closed its beloved toy store on Fifth Av­enue, FAO Sch­warz is mak­ing a re­turn to New York.

A new FAO opened Fri­day in Man­hat­tan’s Rock­e­feller Cen­ter, about 10 blocks from its for­mer home near Cen­tral Park.

For more than 150 years, FAO Sch­warz was known in New York City for its classy and some­times ex­trav­a­gantly ex­pen­sive toys. The fan­ta­sy­land store it opened on Fifth Av­enue in 1986 was a tourist at­trac­tion, re­plete with its own theme song, door­men who looked like palace guards and a mu­si­cal clock tower. Fi­nan­cial prob­lems at the par­ent com­pany and ris­ing rents closed that store in 2015, but FAO is pulling back from the worst fi­nan­cial precipice since it was founded in 1862.

In re­cent weeks at 30 Rock­e­feller Plaza, work­ers drilled, ham­mered and sawed 24 hours a day to get the new store ready. Em­ploy­ees filled shelves with hun­dreds of plush an­i­mals that have long de­fined the brand – bears, bun­nies, ele­phants, chicks and more. The big en­trance clock tower has re­turned. And on the sec­ond level of the 20,000square-foot space is a gi­ant pi­ano key­board mat like the one on which Tom Hanks danced to “Heart and Soul” in the 1988 film “Big.”

The 20-foot-long in­stru­ment with 60 keys is re­flected on the ceil­ing for peo­ple in the plaza be­low to see. Repli­cas for sale cost $128.

There is also a toy gro­cery store where chil­dren can shop among ar­ti­fi­cial pro­duce, com­plete with small carts, a check­out counter and kitchen sup­plies. For $ 75, an­other in­ter­ac­tive sta­tion al­lows kids to adopt baby dolls, while a “nurse” gives lessons on how to care for them. Live magic shows will be staged nearby, next to a spot for as­sem­bling cus­tom re­mote-con­trol cars. A 27-foot-tall rocket ship teems with stuffed bear as­tro­nauts.

“We are about ex­pe­ri­ences. That’s what’s dif­fer­ent from other toy stores,” said David Nig­gli, FAO’s chief mer­chan­dis- ing of­fi­cer.

In a global mar­ket­ing push, pop-up FAO shops are also open­ing for the hol­i­days in Eng­land, Spain and Aus­tralia. A March roll­out is planned for a per­ma­nent store at a mall in Beijing in ad­di­tion to smaller re­tail lo­ca­tions in air­ports and else­where across the U.S. and Canada.

FAO Sch­warz has gone through mul­ti­ple cor­po­rate takeovers in re­cent years as re­tail­ers strug­gled to adapt to on­line sales. It was pur­chased in 2002 by Right Start Inc., which filed for bank­ruptcy twice. Toys “R” Us was the next owner. It sold the FAO name to the Californiabased Three­Sixty Brands in 2016 be­fore re­cently declar­ing bank­ruptcy it­self.

FAO was founded in 1862 by Ger­man im­mi­grant Fred­er­ick Au­gust Otto Sch­warz, spe­cial­iz­ing in high-end toys, some im­ported from Europe. By the 20th cen­tury, in stores across the coun­try, fancy items in­cluded a $1,500 jew­eled Etch-A-Sketch and a Bar­bie-themed, hot pink foos­ball ta­ble for $25,000.

There are a few ex­trav­a­gant items to be had in the new store but plenty of mod­estly priced items, too.

“We have beau­ti­ful ar­ti­san pieces here, like rock­ing horses, but we also have items that are $10,” Nig­gli said. “There’s al­ways go­ing to be some of those over-the-top items. I think that’s part of what you come to FAO to see. It’s part of the magic.”

The most lux­u­ri­ous item on sale could be a child­size, driv­able Mercedes Benz en­crusted with 44,000 Swarovski crys­tals. Base price: $25,000.

“That’s the core of FAO. It’s the clas­sics plus the ‘Oh, wow’ things you’ve never seen be­fore,” Nig­gli said.

MARY ALTAFFER AP

FAO Sch­warz toy sol­diers pose dur­ing a pre­view of the new FAO Sch­warz at Rock­e­feller Cen­ter in New York.

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