Thursday, May 28, 2009

FAO remembered, and refreshed

The recent news that FAO Schwarz had been acquired by Toys ‘R’ Us sent me on a little impromptu journey down memory lane.

I’m not from New York, nor was I raised in any city with an FAO Schwarz toy store, but still the venerable retailer has played a big part in my life. I first met Dik Glass, then senior VP store development for FAO Schwarz, in 1989. He and I worked together on a cover story for another retail magazine, and forged a long and enduring friendship.

When my son Jake was born in 1993, Dik gave him a life-sized stuffed replica of Coco the gorilla. He proffered the gorilla in the middle of a presentation I was making in Houston, only because he knew it would make me laugh. (What Dik didn’t realize, though, was that to get Coco back to Nebraska from Texas, I had to buy an additional airline seat, something I never told him!). Coco has been a fixture in the Field House ever since and is still today a top-ranking treasure on Jake’s must-always-keep list.

Dik’s gift, and his friendship, sparked a keen interest in FAO Schwarz for both Jake and his older sister Holley. We visited the store in Kansas City, in Country Club Plaza, when it opened in 1994, and made the 215-mile trip east a quarterly trek for almost a decade. Every time we visited, each of my children would pick out one toy to take home -- and I would report back to Dik what the kids picked and how much we enjoyed our visit and the interaction with the store associates.

I haven’t spoken with Dik in years, and a quick Google this morning revealed that he is now CEO of MorseHarris Holdings, an Old Greenwich, Ct.-based project management firm that worked on the Hershey’s Times Square flagship in New York City. As well, the company -- whose founders are former FAO owners -- is responsible for FAO Schwarz’s real estate, design and construction.

That Dik is still involved with the creation of great stores designed to delight both children and their parents comes as no surprise to me. It’s what he was meant to do. I only hope that Toys “R” Us does what the company’s chairman and CEO promised it would do in today’s acquisition announcement: to “work tirelessly to preserve the distinctiveness and integrity of the FAO Schwarz stores and brand as we grow the business and, indeed, take the brand to even greater heights.”

-- Katherine Field

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