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Old November 24th, 2004, 11:52 PM   #1
New Jack City
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FAO Schwarz Reopening

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FAO Schwarz Reopening

Nov 23, 2004 7:38 am US/Eastern

(1010 WINS) (NEW YORK) Luxury toy store FAO Schwarz, forced into bankruptcy by competition from discount retailers, is returning to its image as an extravagant playland to attract customers when it reopens its doors Thanksgiving Day.

The company, which closed its landmark Manhattan store in February, is hoping that its glitzy refurbishing and distinctive merchandise will charm customers.

``We think of ourselves not as a big toy store but as a very special place,'' Jerry Welch, chief executive officer of FAO Schwarz, said Monday during a tour of the Fifth Avenue toy store. ``This is an experience, a destination.''

The store's makeover includes floor-to-ceiling windows and 20,000 colored lights on a gridded ceiling that resembles a glittering jewel box from outside the store. In the center of the amphitheater-style floor is an old-fashion ice cream parlor, FAO Schweetz, with $9 ice cream floats.

The clock tower with a human face and the robotic elevator that greeted customers at the main entrance have been replaced by a menagerie of stuffed animals, including a 20-foot tall giraffe that retails at $10,000.

Then there's FAO's version of a go-cart: a gasoline-powered, kid-sized red Ferrari with leather seats and three-speed transmission that tops out at 15 mph. The cost: $50,000.

``People come here because they expect to find things they can't find when they go back home to Omaha or somewhere else,'' Welch said.

Chris Byrne, a New York-based toy consultant, said FAO can't simply bank only on the top of the market.

``They are going to have to establish themselves not as a tourist destination but a viable retail store,'' Byrne said. ``People want to be able to buy something from this classic American store, not leave empty handed because they can't afford anything. They have to be more than a toy museum or they won't make money unless they charge to get in.''

While the majority of the merchandise on display Monday was high-end, Welch said the store will also offer items that sell for under $20 _ such as marbles or a stuffed-animal key chain.

``Sure we have expensive items but one of our best sellers is a stuffed animal that is $7.95,'' he said.

In its relaunch, Welch said FAO will focus on selling merchandise at both ends of the price scale that are not available at other retailers.

``We are not selling items you find at Wal-Mart or big discounters,'' he said.

FAO Schwarz Inc. filed for bankruptcy last year. Welch said FAO did not respond effectively to the competition from the large discounters, which were offering the same merchandise at lower prices.

Investment firm D.E. Shaw purchased the New York and Las Vegas stores, its catalogue and Internet business for $20 million in January. The Las Vegas store reopened about a month ago.
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Old November 24th, 2004, 11:56 PM   #2
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woot!
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Old November 25th, 2004, 01:02 PM   #3
Patrick Highrise
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Finally; I was rather pissed off when I was there in October not knowing it was closed
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