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Oct 9, 2018

FAO Schwarz comes to Canada with holiday pop-ups at Hudson's Bay

FILE PHOTO - A woman holds a Hudson's Bay shopping bag in front of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) flagship department store in Toronto

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TORONTO -- Iconic American toy brand FAO Schwarz is coming to Canada, but it won't be here for long.

The New-York based retailer announced Tuesday that it is opening pop-up spaces at every Hudson's Bay Co. store in a bid to bring some of the U.S.'s most beloved toys to Canada.

The spaces, ranging in size from 27 to 111 square metres (300 to 1,200 square feet), will stay open until the end of December and sell oversized plush animals, classic toy train sets and playmat replicas of the life-size piano that Tom Hanks danced on in the famous scene from the 1988 movie "Big."

FAO Schwarz said the deal marks the first time the brand has had a physical presence in the country.

"We are thrilled to be entering the Canadian market," FAO Schwarz chief merchandising officer David Niggli told The Canadian Press. "We have been known more as a U.S. company, (but) I would say toys are universal and we found that whether it is a teddy bear or it is a doll or a remote-control car, those kind of playthings are classic and work across the globe."

The partnership comes months before the more-than-150-year-old FAO Schwarz reopened its New York flagship store after shutting down in July 2015. Around the same time, rival Toys "R" Us Inc., which once owned FAO Schwarz, was facing financial woes and began liquidating U.S. stores only to cancel its U.S. bankruptcy auction and announce plans to revive the brand days ago.

Toys "R" Us's Canadian business remained open and mostly immune to the rocky period the business encountered, but in recent years it and other toy companies grappled with the growing popularity of video and online games, the expansion of rival brand Mastermind Toys stores and the dawn of e-commerce that has pitted legacy toy retailers against online giants Amazon.com Inc. and eBay Inc.

FAO Schwarz, which is known for its bright, large-scale displays, has attempted to counter these headwinds by opening stores within Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales department stores.

Niggli wouldn't say whether the HBC partnership was a sign that FAO Schwarz will look to make a long-term foray into the Canadian market or open its own stores here.

"We always consider. We never say never," he said.

"I think we will definitely have a good read, but right now it is us and Hudson's Bay in Canada."

It's been two years since HBC re-entered the toy business after nixing the category almost a decade before.

HBC President Alison Coville said the FAO Schwarz opportunity was ideal because it is a chance to "see toys and the wonderment of the holidays brought to life in a really big and magical way."

Shoppers who visit the pop-ups, she said, can expect to find a mix of hit toys like the Our Generation dolls, alongside technology-based playthings like microphones and mixing boards and FAO.

Schwarz favourites like oversized giraffes and the $120 pianos, which Coville even admitted she has to stop herself from jumping on.

However, she couldn't say whether the FAO Schwarz partnership could stick around after the holidays.

"We have toy departments throughout our network of stores, so depending on the customers response, if it is strong and we see opportunity, we would definitely look at expanding or doing it again."