Did you know that F.A.O. Schwarz’s famous (and recently shuttered) New York City flagship store wasn’t just a place to buy a kid a nice toy? Sure, that’s what it looked like from the outside and from its famous portrayal in the 1988 blockbuster film Big. Now, thanks to some hard-hitting investigative journalism by a staff writer at The Atlantic, the store’s true identity and mission have been revealed.
According to Megan Garber, F.A.O. Schwarz is really an elite, members-only club dedicated to furthering the ideal of capitalistic excess; a club that caters to (gasp!) rich people.
It might strike many parents as odd that Garber didn’t know F.A.O. Schwarz carried a higher end (and therefore higher priced) catalog of goods. Her column offers a not so shocking list of some of the more expensive and offensive items sold:
. . . The toys on offer, particularly in recent years, weren’t just “pricey,” they were downright Trumpian. There was the $15,000 mini-Mercedes, gas-powered, with room for two children in its tiny seating area. There was the $30,000 off-road vehicle, designed, Schwarz said, to give kids “their first driving experience.” There was the tree house that came complete with its own tree ($12,000; “gift wrap,” unfortunately, “not available”). There was the $9,000 “rocking zebra.” There was the customized playhouse called “La Petite Maison,” which had a starting price of $30,000, but rose in price according to its size, its architectural details, and the furnishings deemed fit for it by a “professional children’s interior decorator.”
Yes, yes, yes. We get it. It’s grotesque. Who in their right mind would buy such things for their child? But that’s not the real point of Garber’s piece. Her Occupy Wall Street-style message is that we middle class moms are so much better than those rich people.
And sure, that sort of thinking can be attractive particularly if—like me—you’re putting off getting your hair done because you’re broke from paying for the kids’ summer camps. Budgeting is a drag and it sure feels good to get angry—you know, not jealous—toward rich people and their superfluous purchasing habits.
But of course, rich people do buy these sorts of things for their children. The real question is: Why does this shock anyone?
Scott Fitzgerald certainly wouldn’t have been shocked to learn a toy store exists that caters to people with money to burn. Of the very rich, he wrote: “They are different from you and me.” And that’s true today as well. We members of the middle class might get on our high horse and talk about the dangers of spoiling a child, of the folly of giving them too much (and there is some danger in doing that), but to the very rich, is a $15,000 mini-Mercedes too much? After all, it’s just a miniature version of what Daddy drives.
My kids seemed thrilled with the $50 Little Tykes Cozy Coupe perhaps because it more closely resembles the beat-up vehicle in which I ferry them around.
Being a grownup means more than just acting responsibly. It also means putting away the petty, childish jealousies and make believe grievances Garber fictionalizes in her piece. Grown ups don’t complain that these stores exist, stomp their feet, and demand equality in toy purchases. Grownups should have other things to worry about.
I’d like to think that if I suddenly inherited millions of dollars, I would continue to teach my children thrift and monetary responsibility. I’d still yell at them to turn the lights off and close the door on hot days. I’d still explain why it’s important to save for things we want and to make purchases that fit within their budget.
But who knows, maybe I’d want to get my kid a matching Mercedes? Thank goodness there’s a store for that—or at least, there used to be.