[NEW YORK] Famed toy emporium FAO Schwarz, a household name for its aisles crammed with games and pricey playthings, shuttered its doors on Wednesday, a casualty of New York's skyrocketing real estate prices.
Thousands of nostalgic New Yorkers and tourists hurried to make a final purchase at the Fifth Avenue store immortalised in films such as 1988's "Big," when Tom Hanks famously played a piano on its floor with his feet.
FAO Schwarz's owner Toys "R" Us announced in May that it would close the more than 100-year-old store due to "continuing rising cost of operating a retail location on Fifth Avenue in New York City." But it maintains that the closure is not necessarily permanent; FAO Schwarz could open at an unspecified date elsewhere in Manhattan, the company said.
Outside the store, families rushed to pose with its famous soldiers, dressed in red and black, who stand sentry at its doors.
"It is really sad," said Marcela Ramos, 34, who lives in the city and came with friends to mark the store's last day.
"Even though they are going to try to move to somewhere else, this will never be the same. This is it. This it the FAO Schwarz that everybody knows, it is close to Central Park, it is beautiful during Christmas," she said.
Much of the store's 43,000 square feet (4,000 square meters) of merchandise was on sale, with some aisles nearly empty.
Ramos said she had already purchased a mouse pad and magnet, but was still searching for a plush, stuffed animal to make her experience complete.
In addition to classics toys such as teddy bears, FAO Schwarz's stuffed animal aisle is renown for variety: camels, elephants, lions, horses and spectacular giraffes.
Meanwhile, a nearby cashier tried to comfort despondent shoppers.
"We are not going out of business. We have opened and closed before," she said, but admitted that she does not know what will happen next - neither where or when the store will reopen.
Near the entrance, a large, well-placed sign told passersby the same message - that FAO Schwarz has moved several times since it first opened in Manhattan in 1870.
It reminded shoppers that it looked forward to welcoming them in the future at a new address.
German immigrant Frederick August Otto Schwarz opened the first FAO Schwarz on Broadway under the name "Schwarz Brothers Importers." A second store followed six years later, and the two eventually merged under the FAO Schwarz name at a location on New York's Union Square.
The Fifth Avenue store opened in its current location in 1986.
FAO Schwarz claims to be the oldest toy store in the United States. It was bought by Toys "R" Us in 2009.