By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Reuters) - FAO Schwarz, the oldest toy store in the United States and a retailer once considered accessible only to the rich, is closing its much-loved Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan, citing rising rent prices.
The three-level, 45,000 square foot space is a popular tourist destination and has made cameos in multiple movies, including Woody Allen's 1995 film "Mighty Aphrodite" and the 1988 movie "Big" starring Tom Hanks.
The store, positioned along a stretch of Fifth Avenue that is home to some of the world's most luxurious retailers, will shut its doors on July 15, taking an early exit from its lease.
"The decision to vacate this space is due to the continuing rising costs of operating a retail location on Fifth Avenue in New York City," FAO Schwarz said in a statement released on Friday.
FAO Schwarz, which was acquired by Toys "R" Us Inc in 2009, is actively looking for a new space in Midtown Manhattan to re-open its flagship store, it said.
The store was packed with shoppers on Saturday, with many just learning the location would soon be closing its doors.
Laurent Orne, visiting from France with his family, snapped photos of his six-year-old daughter, who beamed as she posed next to toy soldiers in red uniforms.
"We wanted to come here because this store is mythical," said Orne, 42, a computer engineer.
The toy retailer, known for its unique and sometimes pricey merchandise, was founded in 1862 in Baltimore by German immigrant Frederick August Otto Schwarz.
By 1870, Schwarz had moved to New York City and over the next 100 years it grew in size and moved Manhattan locations several times. It landed in the General Motors Building on Fifth Avenue in 1986.
The store's shuttering surprised Chris Fulton, 27, who has been doing product demonstrations at the location for the past six months. On Saturday he was flying a small remote-controlled helicopter.
"I'm shocked about it," Fulton said. "This store has been around here for a long time and the customers that come here are loyal," he said.
The toy store once had multiple retail destinations across the country but they have all closed, leaving just the Manhattan space in addition to an online presence and boutiques in Toys "R" Us stores.
(Writing and additional reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in Seattle; Editing by Frances Kerry and Meredith Mazzilli)