At the corner of Fifth Avenue and E 58th Street stands a building with the ability to turn any adult into a version of their childhood self. With real life toy soldiers to greet you at the entrance, you’re welcomed into a world filled with toys, candy and a giant floor piano. You have now entered the fantasy land known as FAO Schwarz.
Originally opened in Baltimore in 1862 as “Toy Bazaar” by Frederick August Otto Schwarz, that first store eventually paved the way for the establishment of more locations in other cities on the Eastern Seaboard, including Philadelphia, Boston and of course, New York.
In the 151 years that have followed since the first store was established, the company itself has gone through many changes of ownership, store closings and a few different location moves in New York City. Throughout these changes, however, the brand never faltered and their presence as the toy store that everybody loves never diminished.
Before my initial visit to the city in 2009, I had done the usual research necessary for visiting a new destination. I picked up a travel guide, becoming absorbed in all it had to tell me, imagining all the places I was soon going to be seeing in person.
The travel guide that I picked up four years ago still sits on my bookshelf at home, along with the few dozen other books that make up my travel collection. It was that particular guide that originally introduced me to the world of FAO; a world I now make sure to visit every time I’m in NYC.
And now that I’m a proud auntie of a beautiful and curious two-year old niece, I actually have an excuse to visit whenever I’m in town, just so I can pick up a souvenir for her (which acts as a nice cover-up for me just wanting to feel like a kid amongst the huge collection of toys that fills the two floors of the building).
Whatever your inner child desires, FAO has you covered. And yes, they’re home to the giant piano featured in the Tom Hanks movie from the 1980s, Big.
I’ve never tried out the piano myself, simply because I’m very bashful and often don’t like making an ass out of myself in public. Whenever I visit I do take a photo of it though, because it’s just awesome. Check out this video of FAO staff rocking out:
Within FAO there’s one particular corner that is sacred to me. It’s a shrine to my childhood, and I always end up just standing there looking around in awe and a huge amount of nostalgic love. This corner IS my childhood.
Because I can’t share photos of this part of the store without first confessing something, here goes: I LOVE THE MUPPETS.
I grew up on those crazy characters, loving their usual shtick, their routines and their absurdity. I loved how Kermit had a big heart; how the Swedish Chef always seemed to destroy his kitchen, all the while yodeling and commentating in his gibberish; how poor Beaker would always be the guinea pig for Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, often becoming engulfed in flames, or electrocuted, or experiencing some other sort of disaster by the end of their segment; or my favourite of them all, Animal, with his unbridled passion for music and his silly, toothy grin and crazy ass hair.
From Gonzo, to Miss Piggy, to Dr. Teeth, to the adorable Fozzie Bear, these guys made my childhood and continue to keep me laughing as an adult. Honestly, how can you not laugh at this?!
The corner of the store that is so dear to me is in fact the Muppet Whatnot Workshop, where you can actually create your very own muppet. I have yet to partake in the muppetry, but one day, and I’ll swear to this, I will have a Whatnot.
I honestly don’t think I’ll ever stop visiting this store. And when she’s old enough to take the trek to NYC with “Auntie Assey”, I’ll make sure to bring my niece, Suriyah, along to pass on the tradition to her.
If your spirits are ever down, or you’re stressed or angry, go visit FAO Schwarz. Guaranteed you’ll walk out of there feeling renewed and, dare I say it, childlike. And don’t forget to say hello to the toy soldier as you enter his fortress; he’s quite a lovely gentleman.