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Grin and teddy bear it: Bon-Ton seeks to re-create FAO Schwarz holiday magic

You know you want to snuggle it. The Bon-Ton is bringing FAO Schwarz back in 186 of its stores. (Contributed photo)
You know you want to snuggle it. The Bon-Ton is bringing FAO Schwarz back in 186 of its stores. (Contributed photo)

When I was a young girl, during the holiday season department stores would seem like magical places.

I remember walking into the sparkling lights and overfilled shelves of Hess’s Department Store in downtown Allentown – the only store that got the “real” Santa, according to my mother – and felt the wonder of the approaching holiday.

I’m also old enough to remember the display Ice City would put up across town. Colorful trees and animatronic Santas, reindeer, snowmen and carolers seemed like the North Pole itself had sprung up in Allentown.

These were destinations, places that were must-see to get excited for Christmas morning.

I can only imagine the spectacle that was the famous FAO Schwarz store in Manhattan, a legendary spot for its hand-on holiday displays.

But, alas, all those are gone now.

Last year, I did nearly almost all of my Christmas shopping online. I avoided the crowds, and stores just don’t seem to have the magic they used to.

Maybe it’s because I’m older, but I just don’t get excited about Christmas shopping like I used to.

I’m not alone. Retail stores, which are largely dependent on holiday shoppers, have been hurting in recent years.

Perhaps it’s because they offer little to differentiate themselves or give added value over just sitting at home and ordering things online.

A few generic holiday displays that usually go up before Halloween, and are old and tired by the time holiday shopping heats up, just don’t seem to do the trick.

But this year, you might find something worth checking out, maybe even worth putting down the laptop.

York-based Bon-Ton stores in the Greater Lehigh Valley soon will bring back some New York City nostalgia as it opens a number of FAO Schwarz stores within its department stores.

The retailer, which was established in 1862 and closed in 2015, was most famous for its Manhattan store, with a giant floor-piano keyboard as seen in the movie “Big,” as well as its trains and giant teddy bears.

MerchSource bought the license for FAO Schwarz from its owner Toys R Us in 2016. The Bon-Ton is selling the branded merchandise, which includes classic and new toys through MerchSource.

Starting Saturday, Nov. 4, Bon-Ton will be offering many of the toys the former FAO Schwarz was known for and also will have interactive play areas.

“You can touch and feel the plush and interact with the products within the department,” said Christine Hojnacki, vice president of public relations and special events.

She said with so many people shopping online, this makes the Bon-Ton stores a destination where a family can get in the spirit for the holidays.

“We’re trying to create an experience for our shoppers,” she said. “They have so many options.”

A ribbon cutting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday where participating stores will have photo opportunities for kids, as well as giveaways.

FAO Schwarz will be found in 186 Bon-Ton stores, including those in Allentown, Bethlehem, Doylestown, Reading, Quakertown and Stroudsburg.

For those who might like the toys, but still aren’t inspired enough to shop offline, toys also can be purchased through bonton.com.


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