- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

NEW YORK — The gigantic talking clock, the elevator built inside a robot and the endless rows of stuffed dogs and monkeys greeted holiday shoppers at the famous FAO Schwarz toy store yesterday.

So did a sign that didn’t quite match the festive spirit: “Entire Store on Sale.”

A day after the owner of FAO Schwarz toy stores filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, holiday shoppers braved a snowstorm yesterday to snap up toy cars, dolls and games for up to 20 percent off.

“I’m from California and we were afraid that FAO Schwarz won’t be here next time,” said Michele Babcock, who was leaving today to return to La Jolla, Calif.

The famed, flagship midtown store and others in the chain began slashing prices Thursday, when FAO Inc. announced it had filed for Chapter 11 protection less than eight months after emerging from an earlier bankruptcy. The company said it would try until Dec. 15 to find a buyer for its 15 FAO Schwarz stores; otherwise, the businesses will be liquidated.

The 141-year-old business founded by Frederick Otto Schwarz has been in New York City since 1870 and on Fifth Avenue, within sight of other landmarks like Central Park and the Plaza Hotel, since 1931.

The store’s fame was enhanced by the 1988 film “Big” in which Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia danced on the keys of a giant piano. It was imitated in the 1992 film, “Home Alone 2: Lost In New York,” in which Macaulay Culkin visited a huge toy emporium with lavish Christmas displays.

“When you think about Christmas in New York, FAO is just right there,” said Sean McGowan, a toy analyst at Harris Nesbitt Gerard. “That’s the feeling that you get — the big animatronics and oversized stuffed animals and mini-Maseratis.”

Ms. Babcock was taking her 16-year-old daughter, Britton, to New York for the first time and came to FAO Schwarz after hearing it could close. Britton was eager to see the store’s extensive Barbie doll selection.

She joined thousands of people pushing strollers and escorting toddlers, forming long lines to buy paint sets, puzzles, stuffed animals and candy.

Aisa Perere, who was visiting from Miami, said she never misses a trip to the landmark store when she comes to the city. She left loaded with bags.

“It will be one less thing to do in New York when we come here,” if FAO Schwarz closes, Ms. Perere said. “We’ll have to find another store.”

Analysts said FAO Schwarz had difficulty competing in a retail market dominated by discounters and price-conscious shoppers — such as Lynn Anstett, 39, of Buffalo, N.Y.

Ms. Anstett also came for a visit, but carried purchases from another toy store instead. FAO Schwarz, she said, “is a nice store but it’s still too expensive.”

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