FAO Schwarz’s flagship store in New York City, on 5th Avenue near Central Park and the Apple Store, is closing on the 15th. We heard about it on the news, but you wouldn’t be able to tell otherwise. Their website doesn’t even mention that the store won’t be around anymore in a few days. There are no signs out front mentioning the fact. Nothing inside to show that they’re closing other than a lack of product and that the bottom floor is completely sealed off. I did talk to an employee that seemed depressed and annoyed with what was going on. I don’t blame her, considering she was basically losing her job. She said that display stands were being taken down right in front of customers and the floor sales people were trying to promote products that were sitting unceremoniously on plastic push carts.
I was hoping there would be sales to clear inventory, but that wasn’t the case. It’s as if they’re trying to keep up the facade that the store is temporarily embarrassed until they don’t open the doors again. The shelves were half empty, the store was dirty. The bathrooms were half flooded, quite literally. The air conditioning was nice, though, and walking past the mock toy soldiers at the front door, seeing the spinning FAO Schwartz sign above the troughs of candy, and the smell of sugar and baked treats was exciting. It reminded me of what I love about going to FAO. There are so many types of toys, so many different types of candy to look at and consider buying, and so many different and odd people to watch. The place is always packed with tourists and locals. Just being there and being part of the crowd is a fun experience, but we rarely walked out empty-handed.
I had been to FAO a few times as a kid and regularly as an adult, but usually just to pick up some candy or wander the aisles and see what sorts of toys were selling. I was disappointed when I heard the place was closing, but I mean, come on, when you’re selling 700 dollar stuffed dogs in 2015, what do you expect? One could argue that FAO was targeting a particular demographic, but most kids come from families that can’t afford a 700 dollar stuffed dog, and I’m pretty sure that even the ones that do would rather spend that 700 bucks on a PS4 or XBox 1, some accessories and some games. Making things even tougher, most games are bought as digital downloads now. Saves the trip of having to go up to the store. No travel fare, no gas money, no begging parents to give you rides. You just click a button and a while later you’re playing.
I’d rather have a video game than a 700 stuffed animal too. I’d also rather have a video game than 45 dollar doll house furniture. Walking into the top floor of FAO, thinking about business models and changing economies, I couldn’t help but look at the stuff they were selling and wonder what they were thinking. Are there really that many kids clambering to build model train sets these days? Isn’t there a 3D simulation for that now? I suppose toy stores are going the way of Blockbuster and Books-A-Million. Everything is going digital. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Things change, often for the better, and companies have to keep up with those changes to remain relevant. You can’t force people’s preferences to stay locked into a certain decade.
I suppose things won’t be the same anymore, not seeing FAO open when we walk by. I’m reminded of how much Union Square on 14th Street has changed since I was a teenager in the 90s. New York keeps changing. I’m already wondering where I’m going to get sacks of gummy candies from here on out.