To enter FAO Schwarz in Rockefeller Center is to walk in Oz. Each salesperson represents a distinct Technicolor realm of toys.
On this sunny day in October, Micah Feliciano, head of personal shopping, would help me on a challenging mission: learning as much about FAO’s 2019 shopping season in 15 minutes or less. As the oldest toy store in America, the one made famous in the 1988 movie Big, FAO is full of diversion. When I announced my arrival to an employee dressed as an astronaut, I determined I could easily take up 30 minutes on the first floor alone.
“For my job interview here, I brought my puppet,” the astronaut told me while I waited for Micah. I asked him to repeat his statement, so I could let it fully absorb, but a Sharper Image 5 Inch Stunt Hand Controlled Lunar Drone flew by my head. Meanwhile, two employees raced by on light-up skates that hooked onto the heels of their shoes.
“Mrs. Claus!” exclaimed Micah when he saw me near the Melissa & Doug grocery store. “I’ve been working for you for years. Now I get to meet you in person.”
First, the tall, elegant Micah walked me back to the store’s entrance where we met two seasoned employees wearing uniforms in my favorite shade of Christmas red: Soldier Patrick standing outside the revolving doors and Soldier Johnny inside. Both had been with FAO when it was on Fifth Avenue, before this glorious new flagship store opened here on 30 Rock in 2018.
Second, Micah showed me the menagerie of plush animals on the right and Ruby Red dolls on the left. Ruby Red dolls, each about $100, sold only in October and were similar to American Girl dolls with unique personalities and outfits. Their skin was so luminous the little girls looked real.
Third, Micah showed me the wall of Jimmy Fallon games by Hasbro. With the Tonight Show as an upstairs neighbor, FAO pretty much has to include products like the Face It Challenge Party Game and Best Friends Challenge Party Game for Teens & Adults.
Finally, we entered the delightful FAO selection with its sturdy, high-quality choices of work benches, Vintage Bluetooth Musical Microphones, DJ Mixer Music Floor mats, Ultimate Jewelry Making kits, and Girls’ DIY Henna kits. Food items were big, with a Do It Yourself Gummy Bears Candy Maker for $48 and a Do It Yourself Cake Pop Maker for $32. Hint, this section will most likely be rife with deals on Black Friday.
Now we were in the section for Marvin’s Magic, a company that sells exclusively to Hamleys of Regent Street in central London and FAO Schwarz. We were soon to watch professional magicians demonstrate the Dynamic Coins trick and a card bit from the Mind-Blowing Magic Themed set. Price ranges were reasonable, from $20 to $100 depending on the type of set.
In addition to art easels and race cars (I liked the Remote Control Wrist Racer for $24), we passed big-names like Paw Patrol, UglyDolls, and Hatchimals. My nephews would love the science-based items from #MindBlown that include 4D Anatomy Kit Shark for $32 and the Model Engine Kit for $25.
Yet I was most impressed with the Barbies.
In addition to the Star Wars collection (an unmasked Darth Vader is really a woman), I loved the David Bowie doll and all of the different shapes and colors of people.
“This is the fashion section,” Micah says pointing to the spectrum of Barbies in casual and evening wear. A few were gender-neutral dolls wearing outfits I might see any New Yorker wear on the street: shorts and patterned T-shirts. However, the biggest shift from decades past was the variety of skin tones. Browns and freckles were welcome. Body types ranged from slim to shapely.
“And this is the career section,” he said. Of course I appreciated the scientist Barbies, but I immediately, I wanted to jump into the hip food truck scenario with Barbie and Ken.
“Literally in every section, there is something new and interactive,” Micah told me in summary of our adventure through the store. “I’m seeing toys that promote the idea of ‘there’s no wrong answer’ and you can have a great time being you.”
Officially over our allotted time—it’s impossible to go through FAO without reverting back to childhood—Micah took me to the giant piano overlooking Rockefeller’s ice rink. I clapped in time while he and a fellow employee danced to “Heart and Soul.”
But before I left, I checked in with Soldier Johnny. Let’s just say, we Clauses know each other, wink wink.
With his wonderful Brooklyn accent, Johnny asked if I were the Mrs. Claus featured last year on Page 3 of the New York Post. I confirmed that yes, I am she—undercover—and still looking for work as a female in Santa-town. A Broadway actor with secret North Pole dealings of his own, Johnny said an elf had pinned that article to a bulletin board in an undisclosed NYC break room, as inspiration.