By the time you read this, the fate of bankrupt FAO will likely have been decided. For most folks, that really comes down to the fate of FAO Schwarz, the fabled toy retailer, whose holiday catalog was the equivalent of the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book for children, and whose Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan was a destination on a par with Rockefeller Center and the Central Park Zoo.
Which may have been part of FAO Schwarz’s (and FAO’s) problem. Every time I’ve gone to midtown Manhattan with my daughter, we visited FAO Schwarz, but only once did we buy something — and that was a measly pack of stickers. When I want to buy Legos or craft supplies or a board game, I do some comparison-shopping online or go to the local mom-and-pop toy store, which doesn’t discount heavily but does gift-wrap for free.
Plenty of writers are decrying the Wal-Martization of retail, with its emphasis on price above all. Sure, they say, consumers may benefit with short-term savings, but they’ll pay in the long run with lackluster service, less-innovative merchandise, and fewer options.
I could bemoan the same fate. But I won’t. Because I have partaken of Wal-Martization — or in my case, Amazonification.
This holiday season, I vowed once again to shop only via catalog — small, niche catalogs in particular. And I was doing great, until Allan Sherman came along. For those of you who aren’t fans of Borscht Belt humor, Allan Sherman performed parody songs like “Al ‘n Yetta” (to the tune of “Alouette”) and “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!” My husband is an Allan Sherman fan. So when I saw, in a specialty catalog, the CD The Best of Allan Sherman, I had to get it for him.
But before I logged on to the catalog’s Website, a shameful thought arose: “I bet Amazon.com has the same CD, but cheaper.” I checked, and it did. Plus Amazon had several other gifts I needed, and if I put them all on the same order, shipping was free.
So I ordered the gifts from Amazon. My husband is deliriously happy with the CD. But I feel a little like a spouse who managed to get away with a one-night stand with a stranger: self-satisfied but guilty. Because if I hadn’t seen the Allan Sherman disk in the specialty catalog (The Source for Everything Jewish, which is the place to go if you ever need a mezuzah, by the way), I’d never have thought of searching for it on Amazon.com.
I am paying for my sin, however. My husband has played the Allan Sherman CD several times already and even serenades me with a capella renditions of “Sarah Jackman.” Not many people sing worse than Allan Sherman. My husband is one of them.
PS — If you haven’t yet entered the Annual Catalog Awards and the Annual I.Merchant Awards, you’d better hurry. The final deadline in Jan. 19. Winners will be announced at a special luncheon, hosted by Herschell Gordon Lewis and yours truly, on May 5 at the Annual Catalog Conference in Chicago. For entry forms or details about the industry’s most prestigious awards, call Regina Ryan at 203-358-4233 or visit www.CatalogAgemag.com.