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Shoppers Mob Foundering FAO Toy Store

December 6, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ The gigantic, talking clock, the elevator built inside a robot and the rows and rows of stuffed dogs and monkeys were all at the famous FAO Schwarz toy store Friday. So was a sign that didn’t quite match the season: ``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 Friday to roam through the company’s three-story flagship on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

Outside, they snapped photos of the giant teddy bear statue; inside, they snatched 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.

The store and others in the chain began slashing prices Thursday, when FAO Inc. announced it had filed for bankruptcy 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.

``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.″

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, Perere said. ``We’ll have to find another store.″

Lynn Anstett, 39, of Buffalo, was in Manhattan 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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