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Photos: Richard Cadan
Photos: Richard Cadan
Photos: Richard Cadan
Photos: Richard Cadan
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First Look: FAO Schwarz returns to New York with Rockefeller Center flagship

BY By Marianne Wilson

FAO Schwarz has made its Big Apple comeback some three years after it exited Fifth Ave., shutting the doors of one of the world’s most famous toy stores.

The iconic toy retailer on Friday opened a flagship in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Plaza. The two-and-a-half level, 20,000-sq.-ft. emporium blends the brand’s signature toys with an array of in-store shops and interactive experiences. Designed by Chute Gerdeman (DGC Capital Contracting Corp., Mount Vernon, N.Y. was the major contractor involved), the store references the history of the brand in New York while also looking towards its future.

The merchandise assortment includes more than 200 FAO Schwarz-branded toys as well as products from over 15 toy brands, ranging from Barbie to Hasbro to Steiff.

“FAO Schwarz was built on in-store experiences, which has made it a global destination over the years.” said David Conn, CEO of ThreeSixty Brands, which bought the brand in 2016 from Toys “R” Us and is in the midst of expanding it globally. “We are bringing back the wonderment of toys and a deep nostalgia for the larger than life experience that FAO Schwarz has offered to parents and children alike for over 150 years.”

The design capitalizes on the Art Deco architecture of the locale and amplifies memories of the best FAO Schwarz experiences from years past, complete with its walk-on piano keyboard. Similar to the Fifth Ave. location, toy soldiers (sporting updated uniforms) are stationed outside, on the 49th street entrance.

Entering the flagship, part of which overlooks the famous ice skating rink in Rockefeller Center, customers encounter the brand’s new icon, a rocket ship. Surrounded by classic plush creations, the 27-foot tall rocket ship—sponsored by Build-A-Bear Workshop—showcases teddy-bear astronauts. From the 49th Street entrance, guests are greeted by FAO’s iconic three-story, three-dimensional clock tower.

The famous FAO Schwarz dance-on piano, featured in the Tom Hanks’ movie “Big,” is featured on the second floor. It’s been jazzed up for the new location, and is now reflected with big lights on the ceiling above. Piano “dancers” will perform shows throughout the year, and teach visitors how to dance and play songs.

Also back is FAO Schweetz. The 2,150-sq.-ft. in-store sweets shop, operated by specialty candy retailer It’sSugar, features life-sized versions of classic toys such as a space ship, fire truck, and toy train, which serve as bulk candy containers. Design elements such as a New York City subway car serves as the check-out counter.

New store attractions include FAO Raceway where shoppers, working alongside trained mechanics, can build remote-control cars piece-by-piece by picking out their individualized body style, color, wheels, and designs. There is also a grocery store-styled space here kids can fill their carts with play groceries before heading into the Melissa & Doug-branded FAO Home to shop for kitchen equipment, housewares, and more.

Also new is the Baby Doll Adoption Experience, where “nurses” and “doctors” walk children through the adoption process and teach them how to properly love and care for their baby dolls. Once a prospective parent adoption form is completed, children are able to select the doll of their choosing. The baby dolls are then taken for a “checkup” before they are sent home with their very own FAO “certificate of adoption.”

Additional flagship features include a spa for hair color and nail treatments, a Build-A-Bear Workshop experience, a Transformers experience (from Hasbro) with a fully-automated, speaking 9-ft. Optimus Prime, and two 12-ft.-tall toy soldiers, created with over 3 million hand-applied Swarovski crystals, flanking a floor-to-ceiling Swarovski crystallized curtain at the store’s check-out.

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