FAO Schwarz will forever be a part of my cherished childhood. Included on the many trips that my mom and I took to New York City when I was kid, on my end, it was mandatory to visit FAO Schwarz on 5th Avenue. A must! While momma groaned on the outside (I think they too played the then-inescapable sing-along “It’s A Small World” which drover her crazy), I think she had a little fun too. The store was really like a carnival. Mainstream toys stacked everywhere, with gadgets and toy planes flying above your head. And the store’s special affinity for life-like and larger than life wildlife stuffed animals such as zebras, tigers and bears. They were famously, and obscenely cost an upwards of a thousand dollars plus! Did any kids growing up actually own those things? They were massive! All of the aforementioned were definite highlights of the store for decades until last week when the Manhattan flagship closed its doors after 153 years of business in the city, and 29 years on said gilded avenue. It was a surprise to many when FAO announced it was closing.
FAO has already become one of the last relics of a solemnly referred to “old New York.” A era before the streets of Manhattan looked like middle America mini-malls and artists and businesses that had called it home for forever never thought of having to pack in it and leave because everything and everything would be too exorbitant. The disappearing act of so many New York establishments has become an a regular occurrence. Sites like Vanishing New York are currently chronicling the erasure of New York’s once undeniable edge and leverage in the unique spaces of arts, food and leisure.
Another reason I loved visiting FAO in New York was that it was similar to the one in Boston on Boylston Street. I was OBSESSED with it. The epic Barbie section? I would run towards it like it was going away. There was literally a carousel of Barbies for you to gaze at and they had every type of Barbie available in reach (even more than Bradlees!) It was momma’s worst nightmare and my dream come true. And of course, the Barbie department in New York was ten times the one in Boston. As a child, it was confirmed that God was real in both cities.
The Boston location however would close long before the Manhattan one, in 2004. Though I was finishing my undergraduate degree and wasn’t going to FAO as often, I was still sad to see it go. The store later donated its bronze bear statue that introduced its customers, and sculpted by Robert Shure, to the entrance of the nearby Floating Hospital, of Tufts Medical Center, where children are treated. (insert *heart* emoji).
Eleven years later, when FAO declared it was closing its most famous spot, again I felt a wave of sadness. It oddly felt more personal than the Boston one. When that one left, I could imagine I thought at the time, “Well, there’s always the New York one.” Does everything from my childhood have to fade away! Again, it’s imperative to reiterate that FAO’s closing is a sucky sign of New York’s changing landscape. You too FAO? What next…Central Park? Commentators online guessed it would just be made into another mega Duane Reade or condos that no one could afford comfortably. Reports cited that a rent hike (read: $15 million a year) was the main reason for the iconic store’s cessation. Others also alluded to low sales of its merchandise. The company had filed twice for bankruptcy prior to 2015. (The prices in their candy store were outrageous). As a keeping it real eulogy, The Atlantic published a long article about how FAO Schwarz, since its acceptance in popular culture, also ushered in a subculture of class wars amongst children and parents. (We ask: who honestly owned any of those $1,500 stuffed animals?!)
For ol’ times sake, I visited FAO on July 14th, the day before its last one. For years, it has looked nothing like it did in 1998, the year I bought my Spice Girls lollipops by Chupa Chups there. Lots of shelves were taking down and displays emptied. Lots of other customers were also there to say their goodbyes and there was even a line for the Big Piano, a replica of he one made famous by Tom Hanks in the 1988 film Big.
Since there wasn’t much to see, I took video of the big stuffed animals and headed outside to take a picture of the goodbye letter posted on the window and watch tourists take pics with the dapper, toy soldier greeters. The store is attempting to re-open in Midtown Manhattan in the future. But for now, it’s just a possibility not a guarantee. My crybaby-ass did not weep as I’ve gotten used to the things I loved slowly becoming obsolete. I just wondered in my head, what did this all mean for the future and the kind of memories kids would have when they would get to be my age?