FAO Schwarz headquarters in the General Motors Building
(as Toy Bazaar)|
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
|Founder||Frederick August Otto Schwarz|
|Headquarters||General Motors Building
New York City, New York, U.S.
Number of locations
|Products||Toys, Clothing, Baby Products|
|Parent||W. R. Grace and Company (1970–1974)
Morse Partners (1986–1990)
Vendex KKB (1990–2001)
Right Start (2001–2004)
Toys "R" Us (2009–2016)
FAO Schwarz (pronounced Schwartz) founded in 1862, is the oldest toy store in the United States. The company is known for its unique high-end toys, life-sized stuffed animals, dolls, and games. The FAO Schwarz second flagship store in its history was located on Fifth Avenue in New York City was a popular tourist destination and gained iconic status for its floor piano and cameos in major motion pictures. It closed in July 2015 after parent company Toys "R" Us announced it was giving up the lease nearly two years early to save money.
In October 2016, ThreeSixty Group, Inc. acquired FAO Schwarz from Toys ‘R’ Us, Inc. for an undisclosed amount. The brand formally re-launched on Fifth Avenue on October 24, 2017, at a launch party co-hosted by Bergdorf Goodman and actress Katie Holmes.
FAO Schwarz was founded in 1862 under the name "Toy Bazaar" by German immigrant Frederick August Otto Schwarz, in Baltimore, where he and his brothers retailed toys from a fancy-goods store. Additional locations of "Toy Bazaar" followed in Philadelphia and Boston.
In 1870, Schwarz opened a New York City location known as the "Schwarz Toy Bazaar" at 765 Broadway, which moved to 42 E. 14th Street in Union Square in 1880 and operated at that location until April 28, 1897, when it took over two vacant store locations at 39 and 41 W. 23rd Street. By then, The New York Times described Schwarz as "the largest dealer in toys in this city."
Beginning in November 1869, the Schwarz Toy Bazaar held an exhibition of toys that would be available for the Christmas season, which in 1883 was described as the "14th Annual Exhibition." In 1896, Schwarz proclaimed the store as the "Original Santa Claus Headquarters" in New York. The FAO Schwarz holiday catalog has been published annually since 1876.
In 1889, Schwarz added his initials to newspaper advertisements, branding the store at that time as simply "F.A.O. Schwarz," although the "Toy Bazaar" identifier continued until the move in 1897 to W. 23rd Street.
In 1931, the New York City location moved to 745 Fifth Avenue where it operated for 55 years.
In 1963, when the Schwarz family sold their last shares in the business, FAO Schwarz went through a series of owners beginning with Parents Magazine. The company was subsequently sold to W.R. Grace in 1970, and then to toy retailer Franz Carl Weber of Zurich, Switzerland, in 1974.
In 1985, Christiana Companies, a San Diego, California based company, owned FAO Schwarz for just one year. In 1986, Peter Harris, with the help of Philadelphian investment banker, Peter Morse, bought the company under Morse Partners Ltd. and moved the toy store across 58th Street to the General Motors Building at 767 Fifth Avenue at 58th Street. FAO Schwarz was sold to Netherlands-based NV Koninklijke Bijenkorf Beheer (later renamed Vendex/KBB) in 1990.
Throughout the 1990s, new FAO Schwarz stores opened throughout the United States and by 2000 the company had 40 locations.
Right start, FAO Inc. and bankruptcy
In 2001, Right Start, Inc. purchased 23 of the 42 stores from Vendex, including the famed FAO Schwarz Fifth Avenue flagship store. The other 18 unsold locations were immediately closed. In 2002, Right Start Inc. changed its corporate name to FAO Inc. operating stores under The Right Start, Zany Brainy and FAO Schwarz names. In January 2003, FAO Inc. filed for bankruptcy, yet emerged from bankruptcy in April 2003. The company filed for bankruptcy a second time in December 2003. The Fifth Avenue store closed in January 2004.
D. E. Shaw & Co.
In February 2004, investment firm D. E. Shaw & Co., L.P., acquired the FAO Schwarz stores in New York and Las Vegas, as well as FAO Schwarz's catalog and internet business. The New York and Las Vegas stores were reopened on Thanksgiving Day 2004. In November 2007, FAO Schwarz acquired premium children's clothing company Best & Co., which had plans to expand, but the company ceased business in 2009.
Toys "R" Us, Inc.
In May 2009, Toys "R" Us Inc. acquired FAO Schwarz. In 2009, Toys "R" Us subsequently put temporary FAO Schwarz boutiques in its U.S. Toys "R" Us stores for the holidays, and in October 2010, the concept was expanded into permanent boutiques in Toys "R" Us stores. In addition, FAO Schwarz-branded infant and toddler items are available in all of its Babies "R" Us stores nationwide. The company closed the Las Vegas location in January 2010 followed by its flagship New York store, the last remaining one in July 2015.
In October 2016, ThreeSixty Group, Inc. acquired FAO Schwarz from Toys ‘R’ Us, Inc. for an undisclosed amount.
The FAO Schwarz brand is currently the property of the descendants of the founder through the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation but is exclusively operated by ThreeSixty Group.
FAO Schwarz is known for its large assortment of plush animals and the Piano Dance Mat, a smaller replica of the in-store walking piano featured in the Tom Hanks film Big. FAO Schwarz also features limited-quantity luxury items including a $1,500 Jeweled Classic Etch-A-Sketch and a Barbie Foosball Table by Bonzini priced at $25,000.
In addition to its own line of products, FAO Schwarz carries brands including Steiff, the world's oldest and best-known German designer of stuffed animals, Melissa & Doug, a leading designer and manufacturer of educational toys, and Mamas & Papas, one of the UK's top nursery brands.
Through the years, the FAO Schwarz logo has had versions that included a teddy bear, ABC blocks, a toy soldier, rocking horse and animated clock tower. In 2010, the FAO Schwarz logo was redesigned in colors of red and silver. The new logo emphasized the initials of company founder, Frederick August Otto Schwarz. It also debuted a company mascot, "Wit".
New York City flagship store
The FAO Schwarz flagship store was located in the General Motors Building at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street in Manhattan. It was redesigned in 2001 by architect David Rockwell of The Rockwell Group in collaboration with Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting to feature a Grand Hall entrance and award-winning lighting, including almost 80,000 LED lights mounted on the ceiling above the main atrium space. Each LED light is individually addressable and creates a dynamic light show. The store included a concierge and "Personal Shoppers" to help customers find presents, in addition to a notable selection of toys, games, books and displays.
At the end of 2017, following the sale to ThreeSixty Group, it was decided that FAO Schwarz would open a new store at 30 Rockefeller Center in the space formerly occupied by the NBC Experience Store.
FAO Schwarz Fifth Avenue contained many unique in-store features offering interactive experiences and customizable toys. The Muppet Whatnot Workshop debuted at FAO Schwarz in 2008 and allowed customers the ability to create their very own Muppet by choosing from a selection of bodies and facial features, hair pieces and outfits. The "Style by Me Barbie," "Madame Alexander Doll Factory," and "The Middleton Doll Newborn Nursery" allowed customers to customize unique dolls by choosing hair style and color, skin tone, eye color and outfits from a large selection available in store.
FAO Schweetz and FAO Café
Starting in 1996, FAO Schweetz offered hundreds of types of candy from bears, worms and fruit to classic candies like Jawbreakers and Whoppers, as well as assortments of chocolate and fudge. Visitors could customize orders at the shop. In 2011, the store expanded its FAO Schweetz candy department to encompass 6,000 square feet on Level One of the FAO Schwarz Fifth Avenue flagship store. The department was completely redesigned, featuring new floors, displays and treats along with oversized pieces of candy, including chocolate bars and peppermints.
In October 2010, FAO Café debuted inside the store's 58th Street entrance offering a variety of foods from several Manhattan eateries including Crumbs Bake Shop, Jumbo Bagels, Doughnut Plant, Sigmund Pretzel Shop, and Peanut Butter and Co.
In popular culture
The New York store was featured in the 1988 Tom Hanks film Big, in which Hanks and Robert Loggia danced "Heart & Soul" and "Chopsticks" on the store's large floor piano. Subsequently, it was also featured in the Broadway adaptation of the film, Big: The Musical, in 1996.
In 1995, the store was featured in Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite in the final scene where main characters Lenny and Linda have a chance encounter. It is also featured in Baby Boom (1987) and Big Business (1988), among others.
In 2011, the store was featured in The Smurfs during an "action-packed" chase scene in which the Smurfs encounter the evil wizard Gargamel. Scenes from the movie were shot over five nights in May 2011.
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- FAO Schwarz Website
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- Another article on bankruptcy filing and store closures.
- Legendary Toy Store FAO Schwarz to Get New Home at Rockefeller Center: Reports.