Hamleys, which is London’s 251-year-old version of F.A.O. Schwarz, recently dismantled its pink “girls” and blue “boys” sections in favor of a gender-neutral store with red-and-white signage. Rather than floors dedicated to Barbie dolls and action figures, merchandise is now organized by types (Soft Toys) and interests (Outdoor).
I haven’t seen the new design, but in the past Hamleys has been wonderful in large part because of its unassuming style. When you walk in there are no great vistas: everything is simply crammed into the available space, just as it is at the local ironmonger. What that means is that you never know what you’re going to see as you turn a corner or come to the top of a staircase. Constant surprises.
When I took my seven-year-old son there in 2000, the most dramatic experience came at the entrance, where there stood like a sentinel a seven-foot-tall Hagrid made of Lego. After wandering around for a few moments Wes asked, “Is this the biggest toy store in the world?” A nearby employee smiled and replied, “No. Just the best.”