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FAO Schwarz

Oct 14th, 2009 | By | Category: Movie Locations

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Every year while in Manhattan I drag my fiancé out to Fifth Avenue to stalk the most famous toy store in the entire world – the FAO Schwarz Flagship Store that was made famous in the 1988 movie Big.  Because I am a total kid at heart, the shop honestly has to be one of my very favorite places in all of New York.  Although, being that the store encompasses three stories and over 65,000 square feet of retail space, I should hardly be calling it a “shop”.  It is more of an attraction, or, to be more precise, a sort of hands-on retail playground.  Take my word for it when I say that there is no other place like it in the entire world.  The first FAO Schwarz store, or Schwarz Toy Bazaar as it was originally called, was opened in 1862 in Baltimore, Maryland by a man named Frederick August Otto Schwarz (hence the FAO in the name) and sold only dolls.  In 1870, Frederick moved his store to a location on Broadway in New York City and expanded his selling empire to include a wide selection of high-end toys.  When Frederick passed away in 1911, his heirs inherited the company and continued to run it.  In 1931, the store, which had become known as FAO Schwarz and had grown to become THE finest and most exclusive toy store in the entire world, moved to 745 Fifth Avenue, just across the street from its current location.  But by 1963, Frederick’s heirs had grown tired of running the company and decided to sell it to Parent Magazine.  After several subsequent owners, in 1985 the store was sold yet again to the joint partnership of Christiana Companies, businessman Peter L. Harris, and investment banker Peter C. Morse.  Harris breathed new life into the company, which had faltered under the high ownership turnover, and in 1986 moved the flagship store to its current location in the former auto showroom of the General Motors Building on Fifth Avenue.  It was at the grand opening of the new flagship store that the now famous 28-foot tall “Welcome to our World of Toys” singing clock was unveiled.   And it was only two years later that the store would be immortalized by a piano playing Tom Hanks in the 1988 comedy Big.  Throughout the ‘90s, the store saw several different ownerships yet again and, under the helm of the Rite Start Company, began to severely falter.  In 2003, FAO filed for bankruptcy, not once, but twice, and shuttered eighteen of its twenty-two stores.  And on January 26th, 2004, the unthinkable happened – the store’s Fifth Avenue location closed its doors.  For the next ten months, the new owners, D.E. Shaw Laminar Portfolios, regrouped, revamped and remodeled the floundering company, and on the day before Thanksgiving 2004, the flagship store re-opened to much fanfare.  It has been extremely successful ever since.

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And it truly is a wonder to see!  The famous singing clock no longer greets customers at the front entrance, but there is now a candy shop, two treehouses, a view of Central Park and the Plaza, an on-call magician, life size Lego displays, and – my favorite area – a Newborn Nursery (pictured above), where kids can “adopt” amazingly realistic looking baby dolls for the bargain price of $80.

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And I have to say that, for some odd reason, I absolutely LOVE those Newborn Nursery dolls.  Well, truth be told, I actually have a proclivity for any kind of doll, but some of my favorites have to be the FAO Schwarz Newborns.  I realize I am a grown woman, but every single time I visit New York, I just HAVE to go to the Newborn Nursery and take a picture with one of the dolls.  I must have over ten different photographs pretty much identical to the one pictured above in my collection.  LOL  I know, I know, I am a total dork!

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Believe me, the irony was not lost on me as I posed for the above photograph holding a baby doll . . . on my THIRTIETH birthday.  Not kidding.  :)

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Even though FAO Schwarz has since changed ownership several times and was even closed for the better part of 2004, I am happy to report that it is still, for the most part, recognizable from Big.

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For those who have never seen the movie, it was at FAO that the now infamous piano playing scene starring Tom Hanks and his boss, Robert Loggia, took place.  I sooooo LOVE that scene!  “Chopsticks!”  :)  I can still remember sitting in the movie theatre at eleven years old, watching that scene for the very first time and being absolutely mesmerized over not only the piano dance, but also the toy store in general.  My eleven year old mind could not comprehend that a place like that really existed!   :)

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As you can see in the above screen capture, at the time Big was filmed, the foot piano was located on the store’s main floor, near the front door.  That area, which is called the Great Hall, now houses FAO’s massive collection of stuffed animals.

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Today the Big piano is located towards the back of the store’s second level.  And every hour, FAO puts on a Big style piano show, where store employees dance on the keyboard and play games like “Name That Tune” with the audience.  So cool!  :)

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And you can even purchase your very own Big  piano for the bargain price of . . . $250,000!  No, that’s not a typ0 – the darn thing actually costs $250,000!!!!!  LOL LOL LOL  If I had that kind of money lying around, you can bet I wouldn’t be spending it on a toy piano!

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FAO Schwarz was also featured at the end of 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite as the location where Woody Allen runs into his former mistress, played by Mira Sorvino.  The toy store was also featured in the movies For Love Or Money, Big BusinessGodspell: A Musical Based on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew and the Amy Grant documentary entitled Building the House of Love.

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Besides being a filming location, FAO Schwarz is also quite a celebrity magnet.  On December 15, 2005, Tom Cruise hosted then-girlfriend Katie Holmes’ 25th birthday party at the store after hours.   He even had the place stocked with balloons and cupcakes from Katie’s favorite bakery, Billy’s Bakery, for the occasion.  Other celebs who have been spotted at the legendary toy store include Ashley Simpson, Bindi Irwin (daughter of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin), Kate Gosselin, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Kelly Ripa, Britney Spears, Posh Spice, Heidi Klum, Calista Flockhart, Bernadette Peters, Cindy Crawford, Isla Fisher, Brooke Shields, and Conan O’Brien.

I honestly can’t recommend stalking the FAO Schwarz Flagship Store enough!  The place certainly has the ability to bring out the kid in everyone, whether you are 9 or 99!  :)  But if you aren’t planning a trip to the Big Apple anytime soon, you can also cyber-stalk the store from the comfort of your own home here.

Until next time, Happy Stalking!  :)

Stalk It: The FAO Schwarz Flagship Store is located at 767 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

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