Remembering the original FAO Schwarz Toy Store, New York

FAO Schwarz was a New York institution since 1862. With it gone, Santa’s work has become a lot harder.

Remember Tom Hanks in the 80s hit, BIG? Well who’s showing their age now? Now rack that geriatric brain of yours. Do you remember him playing Chopsticks on a giant plastic piano? That happened at FAO Schwarz, the once great toy store that has since closed.

The original FAO Schwarz was located on Fifth Avenue right where the Apple store is now.

Originally founded back in 1862 by Frederick August Otto (that’s the FAO) Schwarz, it was considered one of the biggest and most famous toy stores in the world. Kids loved it and their parents would pretend to not want to go but would be swept up in the sheer childlike joy.

From the real life toy soldiers guarding the front doors to the menagerie of stuffed toys, it was a place made for big kids (or kid-ults…or people who like men in uniforms – we’re not judging). The ground floor was dedicated to the fluffy and cuddly. Two-meter tall giraffes, pygmy elephants and fake-furred zebras hold court near the escalators. Downstairs at FAO Schweetz, there was enough candy to keep the dentists and gyms in business for at least a couple of generations.

If you headed up the escalators, you were greeted by a galaxy of Star Wars toys, Toy Story Woodies and Teenage Mutant Turtle toys. If I was 12, I would have lost my shit. OK. I did! For the little ladies, there was a nursery of ‘new-born’ dolls.


As an anti-dote to the blatant commercialism, they also sold Smithsonian toys that taught kids about science, geology and technology. Better still, they had a Muppets What Not Shop, where you could make your very own Muppet – preferably in your likeness. For $100, you defined head shape and color, eye color, nose, mouth and costume. We both made ones in our likenesses that we still treasure.

If you were into train sets, there were some great pieces of rolling stock and layouts. The Thomas the Tank Engine was a good starting point for most kids, but there were all sorts of people, trees, trains, etc.

If you liked dolls, you could get one made just for you and if you were into cars, you could create a custom Hot Wheels car in the workshop.

Finally, in plain view of anyone on 61st, stood the famous light up giant keyboard. At night, the queue was the shortest, meaning you could jam out on your favorite/lamest piano pieces without the little kids cramping your style. At $250,000, we’d just come into the store to get our fix.

Sure it was childish, but FAO Schwarz was a great experience for anyone visiting New York. Thankfully the new FAO Schwarz has reopened in the Rockefeller Center. It’s a lot smaller but has a great view of the plaza and at Christmas, the tree.

As New York residents, Bernie and Jess have a range of incredible local places to try or to add to your New York travel itinerary ideas here.
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