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FAO Schwarz Closing Flagship Store In Midtown Manhattan


And news now of the end of an era. One of the world's most famous toy stores is closing.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) Welcome to our world. Welcome to our world. Welcome to our world. Welcome to our world. Welcome to our world of toys.

MONTAGNE: This is the song that greeted visitors for many years at FAO Schwarz in Manhattan. And, yes, many of us say FAO Schwartz (ph), but Schwarz is how the company says it. Whatever the pronunciation, it has awed generations of kids as they explored its floors, filled with extravagant toys beyond their wildest dreams.


In July, the flagship store will shut its doors. Apparently the rent was too high. The store's parent company, Toys "R" Us, says paying for a prime location on Fifth Avenue is just too expensive. FAO Schwarz has been at that address since 1986.

MONTAGNE: It was the backdrop of a famous scene in the 1988 movie "Big." Tom Hanks plays a larger-than-life keyboard by dancing on it.


TOM HANKS: (As Josh) (Playing keyboard).


INSKEEP: Pretty good "Chopsticks" there. The store was founded by a German-born immigrant, Frederick August Otto - or FAO - Schwarz. After arriving in Baltimore in the 1850s, Mr. Schwarz worked for an importer of stationary.

MONTAGNE: And often, stationary companies in Germany would include toys in their shipments. Schwarz placed those toys in his store window and they soon outsold the stationary, sparking an idea. By 1870, the Schwarz Toy Bazaar opened, no doubt, to the delight of children.

CHRIS BYRNE: At that time, most manufactured toys came from Europe or Germany. So it really began as a luxury goods merchant where you'd find sort of the most magical toys.

INSKEEP: That's Chris Byrne of timetoplaymag.com, a website that covers the toy industry. He says that the store's status as New York City's toy box, a major tourist destination, has not been enough to sustain it.

BYRNE: As the toy industry has changed, the several $100 stuffed animals, the elaborate collectible dolls, the $25,000 ride-ons, they really aren't enough to build a business on. And so FAO has ended up trying to compete on price. And I think the final plastic nail in the toy coffin, if you will, was, you know, has been the real estate boom in New York. And it's very hard to maintain a store that is largely a museum, if you will, for toys.

MONTAGNE: Chris Byrne adds that FAO Schwarz is still a valuable brand. And Toys "R" Us says it plans to open a new flagship store for FAO Schwarz, still in Manhattan, but in a more affordable location. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.