|Founded||1862 (as Toy Bazaar)|
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
|Founder||Frederick August Otto Schwarz|
|Headquarters||Rockefeller Center, New York City, New York, U.S.|
Number of locations
|Products||Toys, Games, Clothing, Baby Products|
|Parent||W. R. Grace and Company (1970–1974)|
Morse Partners (1986–1990)
Vendex KBB (1990–2001)
Right Start (2001–2004)
Toys "R" Us (2009–2016)
FAO Schwarz is the oldest toy store in the United States, first opening its doors in 1862 in Baltimore before moving to New York City, where it has moved between several locations since 1870. The dance-on piano, made famous by the 1988 Tom Hanks film Big, brought national attention to the brand. FAO filed for bankruptcy twice in 2003 before temporarily shuttering the Fifth Avenue store in January 2004. In May 2009, Toys "R" Us Inc. acquired FAO Schwarz, but in 2015, it permanently closed the Fifth Avenue store. The brand was then acquired by ThreeSixty Group, who opened the new FAO Schwarz store at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in November 2018. In 2019 locations in Beijing, London and Dublin were opened.
FAO Schwarz was founded in 1862 in Baltimore under the name "Toy Bazaar" by German immigrant Frederick August Otto Schwarz.
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. That year, 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. 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 1931, the New York City location moved to 745 Fifth Avenue, where it operated for 55 years. In 1963, FAO Schwarz was purchased by Parent's Magazine Enterprises. The terms of the deal read that it would license the name FAO Schwarz and continue using it for a maximum of five years before dropping the name, while still paying the Schwarz family a royalty on sales. However, the lease was renewed as the owners felt the name was too significant to lose. Part of the price of keeping the name was to keep the royalty agreement, and the Schwarz family set up a foundation to fund opportunities for young people to work in nonprofit with the income the royalties were making. Nine percent of the company remained in the hands of the Schwarz family. The company 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 company based in San Diego, California, owned FAO Schwarz for 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 Royal Vendex/KBB NV) in 1990. Throughout the 1990s, new FAO Schwarz stores opened across the United States; by 2000, the company had 40 locations.
Right Start, FAO Inc. and bankruptcy
In 2002, Right Start Inc. changed its corporate name to FAO Inc. operating stores under The Right Start, Zany Brainy and FAO Schwarz names. On December 17, the company projected they would find bankruptcy if its bank did not relax borrowing restrictions. On January 13, 2003, FAO Inc. filed for bankruptcy, but emerged from it three months later in April. The company filed for bankruptcy a second time in December 2003. All 13 remaining FAO Schwarz locations closed in January 2004 as a result of the bankruptcy, with the flagship Fifth Avenue store expected to reopen in July of that year but the others closing permanently. The Fifth Avenue store reopened several months later than planned on Thanksgiving Day 2004, redesigned and renovated to accommodate a growing number of tourists, and the Las Vegas location at the Forum Shops at Caesars ultimately remained open until 2010.
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 previous flagship New York store.
In October 2016, ThreeSixty Group, Inc. acquired FAO Schwarz from Toys ‘R’ Us, Inc.
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. In August 2018, ThreeSixty Group announced plans to open two new FAO Schwarz stores in New York. The one at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Rockefeller Center opened on November 16, 2018. Public transit access is available at 47-50 Streets Rockefeller Center Station. The second opened at LaGuardia Airport in December 2018.
In October 2018, FAO Schwarz pop-up stores opened at 90 Hudson's Bay Company stores across Canada, just ahead of the Christmas holiday season, to remain open through the holidays. In March 2019 a store opened at Chicago Midway Airport.
FAO Schwarz is known for its large assortment of plush animals and the Piano Dance Mat, a smaller replica of The Walking Piano featured in the Tom Hanks film Big. FAO Schwarz also features limited-quantity luxury items including a drivable, child-size automobile encrusted with over 40,000 crystals and valued at US$25,000.
In addition to its own line of products, FAO Schwarz carries brands including Steiff, the world's oldest German designer of stuffed animals; Melissa & Doug, a leading designer and manufacturer of educational toys; and Build-A-Bear Workshop, a make-your-own experience featuring a selection of exclusive FAO Schwarz furry friends and accessories, among other in-store retail partners.
Through the years, the FAO Schwarz logo has had versions that included a teddy bear, alphabet 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. In 2017, FAO Schwarz hired design studio, Mattson Creative, to rebrand the FAO Schwarz logo and packaging. Mattson Creative also created the store's reopening tagline and hashtag, "Return to Wonder".
In popular culture
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 the 2010 film Toy Story 3, When Buzz is captured, rescuer Lotso unties him and indirectly references FAO Schwarz in a euphemism: "F-A-O my Schwarz".
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to FAO Schwarz.|
- FAO Schwarz Website
- History of FAO Schwarz from inception to 2001.
- Article on Right Start's acquisition of FAO Schwarz.
- Article on FAO Schwarz bankruptcy filings.
- Another article on bankruptcy filing and store closures.
- Legendary Toy Store FAO Schwarz to Get New Home at Rockefeller Center: Reports.