CATEGORIES On the Scene
Back in 1988, Tom Hanks was just another comedian trying to make it big in Hollywood -- trying and failing, thanks to a series of flops (such as 'The Money Pit') and forgettable mistakes ('The Man With One Red Shoe,' anyone?). But then he made an unforgettable trip to a toy store and hit it very 'Big' indeed.
And the centerpiece of that classic film moment was, of course, his spontaneous frolic with co-star Robert Loggia atop a giant piano set into the floor of the FAO Schwarz showroom. The moment, which perfectly captured the spirit of the movie about a boy who is magically given an adult's body, became an instant fan favorite and helped spur 'Big' -- and Tom Hanks -- to massive box office success.
Location as Character: In the movie, 12-year-old Josh Baskin (Hanks) is turned into an adult via magic. He ends up with an entry level job a toy manufacturer owned by a certain Mr. McMillan (Loggia). As it happens, the two of them bump into each other at FAO Schwarz one day and as they are talking, Josh stumbles upon a giant piano set in the floor.
As he begins horsing around. McMillan is reminded of his own youthful piano lessons and soon the two draw a huge crowd by staging an impromptu duet on the piano that involves a lot of jumping and intricate footwork. McMillan is so impressed by Josh's youthful enthusiasm that he ends up getting a promotion to the dram gig of official company toy tester. Nice work if you can get it.
Historical Significance: The giant piano at FAO Schwarz is just the latest iconic contribution to pop culture from the legendary toy retailer, which first opened for business back in 1862: In the 1880's, the store, which is named after founder Frederick August Otto Schwarz, began hosting annual appearances by Santa Claus as part of their Christmas toy exhibition. The idea caught on at other stores nationwide, leading to the Mall Santa phenomenon that is still going strong today.
Fun Fact: Just about every kind of toy imaginable is available at FAO Schwarz, and most of them have their own departments; look for entire sections devoted to board games, puppets, even stuffed replicas of endangered species that are sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. 'Big' fans, though, will be most interested in the giant piano, of course, which you can not only look at but actually play on just like Tom Hanks. And, for the really hardcore fans, the store offers a slightly miniaturized giant piano that you can bring home and play in your own living room.
Directions: FAO Schwarz, as we've mentioned, is located right in the heart of Manhattan. We're guessing you can probably figure out how to get to New York without our help, but once there you want to head to Fifth Avenue at 58th Street. We don't really suggest driving around Manhattan if you can help it, so you'll probably want to take the Metro instead; the N, R and W lines stop nearby at 59th and Fifth, while the 4, 5 and 6 trains will get you to 59th and Lexington.
Visitor Info: Since FAO Schwarz is one of the most famous stores in New York, it's obviously open to the public; normal operating hours are 10AM to 7PM Monday through Saturday and 10AM to 6PM on Sunday. A wide array of services are available, such as shipping to your home location or free delivery to any Manhattan hotel so that you can shop without having to lug a 10-foot tall stuffed bear around New York for the rest of the day. You can also splurge on a wide array of candies and deserts, so bring your sweet tooth.