“Toyland, toyland, little girl and boy land. While you dwell within it, you are ever happy there.”
A life size toy soldier greeted me with a hearty welcome and a salute as I walked out of a misty rain and into what appeared to be a zoo. A huge lion stared me down as I stepped carefully around him to find a conglomeration of bears- panda, polar, and grizzly- seated in a haphazard circle. I came face to face with the largest ape I had ever seen before continuing past the animals toward the sweet smell of sugar. Before I knew it there were endless rows of candy surrounding me. From lollipops to chocolate bars and jelly beans to marshmallows, I couldn’t find a way to turn that wouldn’t put me right in front of some deliciously sweet confectionary.
This might sound like an odd place, or maybe a really strange dream, but it is merely the first floor of the iconic FAO Schwarz toy store across the street from Central Park. Word of its closing had been dotting the news for a few months now, and while the goal is simply a move, the closing date has been finalized without a new property being announced. July 15th will be the last day, so with a free day this weekend Chris and I decided to go and say goodbye. We walked from the 33rd street PATH station all the way up to the store, stopping for soup along the way as it seemed the rain had followed us from New Jersey. I was glad when we made it to the store just so that I could get out of the rain for a little while, which quickly turned into a long while. There is no shortage of things to do and see at FAO Schwarz!
The stuffed animal collection is the second thing to greet you, after the soldiers standing guard at the door. Many are regular stuffed animals you would find in any child’s bedroom while others are positively huge. We worked our way through the jungle of lions, tigers, bears, apes, leopards, dogs, and foxes and came out in the sweets shop, which we decided to save for later.
Instead, we admired a display of classic toys. Jump ropes, yo-yos, slinkies, jacks, playing cards, paddle balls, tops… as a kid in the 90s, technology was certainly on the rise but not nearly the fixture it is today. I remember playing with these simple, timeless treasures and I hope that my future children enjoy them too. I was happy to see that the store still carried them.
We headed upstairs next with one thing in mind- the BIG piano! Big is a 1980s movie with Tom Hanks- I’m sure almost everyone has at least heard about one scene in it, where Hanks’s character jumps around on this recognizable piano. I enjoyed the movie when I saw it for the first time back in college, and when I saw the piano for the first time a few months ago it was very crowded. Today the crowds were a little lighter and I was able to get up close to it. We opted out of playing it in favor of looking around the rest of the store.
As an avid reader, I was so happy to see that the book section was still relevant. Story books and activity books filled with popular characters adorned the shelves and a few little ones camped out on the carpet bent over their pages. Even though I own an eReader now and so appreciate its convenience, nothing will ever replace the feel and smell of a good old fashioned hardcover.
This store is so big upstairs that many parts of it are sectioned off into mini stores of their own. For example, the well-known Build-a-Bear has a workshop here, as well as Marbles, a store we love filled with brainy games and puzzles. Steiff, the collectable stuffed animal company, also has a section devoted to their wares, while Lego has an impressive spread not only of kits to buy but of huge masterpieces.
After a very long wander through the huge second floor, we went back down to the sweets shop to pick out some snacks and souvenirs. In addition to huge chocolate bars and other assorted novelties, they also have a section where you can fill a bag or box with loose candy and pay by the pound. Everything was tempting my sweet tooth and it was hard to choose what I wanted to take home. We ended up with a bag of Chupa Chups lollipops, a box of cereal marshmallows (cereal not included), some Sixlets that I ate on the PATH ride home, and a cute tin treat box bearing the name of FAO Schwarz’s candy shop alter-ego, FAO Schweetz.
I am looking forward to the future of this store and I truly hope they find a new place to settle so that I can bring my future children there, to salute the toy soldiers, hug the giant stuffed animals, and dance on the big piano. For now, I’m glad I got to see it one last time. It is amazing how much a toy store can be appreciated by adults if they simply open up their minds and hearts and remember the magic of childhood.