FAO Schwarz will make its comeback in Rockefeller Center as toy retailers scrape up Toys R Us’ debris.

What happened

  • FAO Schwarz closed its Manhattan flagship back in 2015. This November, it’s returning with a 20,000 square foot location in Rockefeller Center, as well as a smaller storefront in LaGuardia airport and one in China that’s set to open in 2019. Instead of only sales associates, the Rockefeller store is holding retail staff auditions for what it’s calling “product demonstrators”—magicians and character actors who will bring the store to life.

Why it matters

  • FAO Schwarz’s revamp has been in the works since ThreeSixty Group Inc. acquired the company from Toys R Us in October 2016, well before it filed for bankruptcy last September. But the legacy toy retailer’s new location is about much more than simply filling in the void that Toys R Us left—it’s about making FAO Schwarz an emblem of future toy retail. Though the infamous giant piano will play a major role at the new store, the “sense of theater” described by ThreeSixty Brands aims to instill something new that ideally will suspend visitors’ disbelief, reinstating some magic into brick-and-mortar toy shopping.
  • This thinking needs to remain at the forefront of FAO Schwarz’s retail strategy in order for the company to survive long term. It’s easy to forget that Toys R Us’ Times Square flagship used to boast a ferris wheel—clearly merging retail and entertainment at a single store doesn’t necessarily shield a company from financial meltdown. FAO Schwarz’s return is also inextricably linked to how it balances—and highlights—its legacy as the oldest toy store in the U.S. with a quickly changing market. It will have to face the other retailers vying for Toys R Us’ leftovers: Walmart, which will sell 30% more toys in stores this holiday season (40% more online); Party City, which will launch 50 Toy City stores next to its Halloween pop-ups this fall as it begins to circulate toys in its permanent inventory; and Amazon, which is handing out holiday toy catalogs at Whole Foods and sending them to Prime members’ homes.