FAO Schwarz is closing Towson Town Center store

Mall's general manager is taken `by surprise,' optimistic about space

November 30, 2001|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Upscale toy retailer FAO Schwarz will shutter its Towson Town Center location, one of 17 stores it is closing as it completes a deal to sell most of its assets to a rival California company by the end of the year.

Schwarz officials wouldn't say yesterday when the store will close or how many employees would be affected.

"We have no comment at this time because we haven't publicly announced any details of the store closing," said Bob Friedland, a spokesman for the 40-store chain, which was founded in Baltimore 139 years ago.

Towson Town Center officials found out about the closing yesterday after reading a Schwarz newspaper advertisement announcing a store-closing sale offering 15 percent to 30 percent off. Signs for the clearance sale also hung in the windows of the store.

"This closing has taken us by surprise," said Christopher S. Schardt, Towson Town Center general manager. "We didn't expect it at all."

A second newspaper advertisement yesterday also announced that the FAO Schwarz store in Georgetown Park in Washington would close.

Earlier this month, The Right Start Inc., of Calabasas, Calif., announced that it would buy 23 of Schwarz's 40 stores for $55 million in stock from Dutch owner Koninklijke Vendex KBB NV.

Schwarz said at the time that it would close the rest of its stores after the first of the year, when the two companies expected to close the deal.

The Right Start markets upscale child and baby items to educated, upper-income parents through retail stores, a Web site and catalogs. The Right Start operates about 245 stores in 34 states, including about 180 Zany Brainy stores.

Schwarz has struggled for profits as it has faced increased competition from discount stores such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys `R' Us Inc.

Occupying 11,000 square feet on the fourth floor, the Towson Town Center Schwarz store opened in 1994 as part of the company's strategy to operate stores in enclosed malls.

The shop is one of the larger stores at the Towson mall, but Schardt said it shouldn't be hard to find another tenant. The mall has had to delay past deals because not enough large stores were available, he said.

"We never like to see a good tenant leave," Schardt said. "But this provides us with the opportunity to attract tenants we haven't been able to get in the past."

Frederick August Otto Schwarz founded the toy retailer in 1862 in Baltimore. In 1870, he moved to New York to open the Schwarz Toy Bazaar, which later became known as FAO Schwarz.

The store is known for its upscale toys and high-tech gadgets. The famous Fifth Avenue store in New York was featured in several movies, including the 1988 hit Big, where Tom Hanks played a giant piano keyboard with his feet.

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