Imagine walking into a toy store as a kid to be greeted by toy soldiers that are taller than you are‭, ‬walking among walls teeming with stuffed animals and‭ ‬shelves full of treasures‭. ‬A place where you can dance on piano keys‭, ‬leaving a trail of music behind you‭, ‬or turn yourself into‭ ‬a collectible by making your own Funko Pop‭! ‬That’s what it’s like at FAO Schwarz‭, ‬with even more experiences to come as the company celebrates its 160th anniversary‭. ‬

The iconic toy store got its start in 1862‭ ‬when Frederick August Otto Schwarz put his dreams of a toy wonderland into action in‭ ‬the U.S‭. ‬The brand has evolved in many ways since then‭, ‬expanding‭, ‬contracting‭, ‬and expanding again as the company changed hands‭. ‬Most recently‭, ‬FAO Schwarz has been in growth mode with its toy soldiers reporting for duty at new flagship stores in London‭, ‬Dublin‭, ‬Milan‭, ‬Beijing‭, ‬and other locations around the world‭.‬


In 2015‭, ‬under the ownership of Toys‭ ‬“R”‭ ‬Us‭, ‬FAO Schwarz closed its original flagship location on Fifth Avenue in New York City citing rising rent in the area‭. ‬The company would not be dormant for long‭, ‬as a 2016‭ ‬sale to The ThreeSixty Group set the stage for a triumphant return and the opening‭ ‬of a new flagship store in the heart of Rockefeller Center in 2019‭. ‬That’s where the 160th anniversary party was held on Oct‭. ‬8‭, ‬which Eric Adams‭, ‬the mayor of New York City proclaimed as FAO Schwarz Day‭. ‬The descendants of the Schwarz family were there along with nearly 10,000‭ ‬people‭. ‬The event featured live performances and appearances from magicians‭, ‬Broadway Cares‭, ‬American Ballet Theatre students‭, ‬balloonists‭, ‬the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile‭, ‬and more‭.‬

“When we relaunched the brand in 2017‭, ‬literally New Yorkers would come up to us‭ ‬—‭ ‬and I’m not exaggerating‭ ‬—‭ ‬with tears in their eyes saying‭, ‬‘Oh my God‭, ‬it wouldn’t be New York without FAO Schwarz‭,‬’”‭ ‬says David Niggli‭, ‬chief merchandising officer of FAO Schwarz‭. ‬“It’s a great thing to be associated with and to hear such wonderful memories‭.‬”

A big part of the FAO Schwarz brand is the experience‭, ‬helping families make memories through interactive and personalized in-store activities such as building R/C cars‭, ‬customizing colorful doughs and compounds‭, ‬or adopting a baby doll‭. ‬Of course‭, ‬the jumbo floor piano immortalized by Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia in 1988’s‭ ‬Big‭ ‬is still a mainstay at the New York City location‭ ‬—‭ ‬and now kids‭ (‬and adults‭) ‬can bring some of that magic home with a 69-by-31-inch Giant Dance-On Piano mat‭.‬

“Whether it was when Frederick first started it all back in 1862‭ ‬up until now‭, ‬that’s always been our mission‭: ‬to bring a sense of wonder and amazement and a feeling of being swept away‭,‬”‭ ‬Niggli says‭.‬

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In the past five years‭, ‬FAO Schwarz has launched airport pop-up shops‭; ‬themed hotel suites filled with toys‭; ‬licensing programs‭ ‬in the candy‭, ‬home‭, ‬and accessory spaces‭; ‬and even an FAO Schwirl ice cream flavor at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream shops‭. ‬


Following successful holiday partnerships over the past two years‭, ‬FAO Schwarz and Target recently signed off on a multiyear agreement that will expand the reach of both retailers in the toy world‭. ‬This holiday season‭, ‬a selection of FAO Schwarz-branded toys are now available exclusively at Target stores‭, ‬on‭, ‬and at FAO Schwarz stores‭.

The exclusive assortment features more than 120‭ ‬toys across all toy categories with products ranging in price from‭ $‬9.99-149.99‭,‬‭ ‬including 50‭ ‬affordable toy options for under‭ $‬20‭. ‬Some of the new toys include the FAO Schwarz Style Runway 4-Sided Fashion Show Playset‭, ‬the FAO Schwarz Ride On Train‭, ‬the FAO Schwarz Makeup Vanity Mirror Set‭, ‬and more than 50‭ ‬new plush toys‭. ‬Families can also look for an exclusive capsule collection celebrating the 160th anniversary featuring several nostalgic FAO toys under‭ $‬25‭, ‬such as a Hot Wheels Collector Set from Mattel‭, ‬an FAO 160th Anniversary Teddy Bear‭, ‬and a special edition of ‬UNO‭. ‬Even more FAO Schwarz toys will drop at Target all season long‭.‬

Bullseye’s Top Toys at FAO Schwarz in Rockefeller Center | Source: AP Images for FAO Schwarz

Additionally‭, ‬Target launched its 10th annual Bullseye’s Top Toys list for the holidays‭, ‬presented by FAO Schwarz‭. ‬A dedicated pop-up shop within the FAO Schwarz Rockefeller Center location showcases a curated selection of toys from Bullseye’s list‭. ‬

“One of the reasons families love shopping at Target is because of our incredible assortment of toys‭, ‬and that‭ ‬selection is only getting better with our new exclusive agreement with the beloved FAO Schwarz brand‭,‬”‭ ‬Target Executive Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer Jill Sando said in a statement‭. ‬“From hot new items to time-tested favorites‭, ‬we’ve curated our annual list of Bullseye’s Top Toys to create an easy‭, ‬fun, and affordable way for guests to find just the right gift for every toy lover on their list‭.‬”‭ ‬

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It was important for FAO Schwarz to bring its sense of theater and showmanship to the partnership‭, ‬Niggli says‭. ‬ and all in-store toy departments will host dedicated space for FAO Schwarz‭, ‬with playful store displays and toy demonstrations planned throughout the holiday season‭. ‬

“Through Target‭, ‬we can reach a broader audience and bring that magic and wonder of FAO Schwarz‭ [‬to stores] across the U.S‭.,‬”‭ ‬Niggli says‭. ‬“It’s pretty amazing for a company that is 160‭ ‬years old to have more eyeballs on the brand than ever before‭.‬”


Other brands are helping celebrate the 160th anniversary with commemorative items‭, ‬including an FAO Schwarz 160th celebration T-Rex figure from Schleich and Funko Pop‭! ‬FAO Schwarz Toy Soldiers‭. ‬In addition to a limited-edition‭ ‬“chase”‭ ‬version of its figure‭, ‬Funko also sold five Swarovski-covered versions of the limited-edition Pop‭! ‬collectibles for‭ $‬2,000‭ ‬each‭ ‬at the October anniversary event in Rockefeller Center‭.

FAO Schwarz is also the only store in North America that features an animatronic Schleich lion that roars‭. ‬Last year‭, ‬Schleich hosted an in-person casting call at FAO Schwarz in New York City‭, ‬where the company found its chief storytelling officer‭, ‬a 9-year-old kid named Marcello‭. ‬

“Schleich and FAO Schwarz have a tremendous partnership that goes well beyond the traditional brand-retail relationship and plays‭ ‬an important role in our growing business‭,‬”‭ ‬says Chief Commercial Officer of Schleich Annie Laurie Zomermaand‭. ‬“Something magical happens when Schleich and FAO Schwarz come together‭, ‬and we’re honored to be a part of their milestone year‭.‬”

When the right partners lend their support to a brand that has been around as long as FAO Schwarz‭, ‬it makes the consumer experience that much more special‭.‬

As FAO Schwarz heads into its 161st year‭, ‬families can expect even more events‭, ‬displays‭, ‬products‭, ‬and memories to last a lifetime‭. ‬The brand is set to continue its expansion so that a new generation of kids can experience the toy wonderland for themselves‭.‬

This article was originally published in the 2022 Innovation & STEM issue of The Toy BookClick here to read the full issue! Want to receive The Toy Book in print? Click here for subscription options!

About the author

Jackie Cucco

Jackie Cucco

Jackie Cucco was a Senior Editor of The Toy Book, The Toy Insider, and The Pop Insider. She covered toy trends, pop culture, and entertainment news, and made appearances on national and regional outlets, including CBS, WPIX, News 12, and more. Jackie spends her time watching horror movies and working her way through every Stephen King novel out there.