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Mothers of Invention

FAO Schwarz wants playful ideas.

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Get that idea for Lower East Side Monopoly or peanut-butter Twinkies ready. On May 11, the two oversize wooden soldiers at FAO Schwarz’s Fifth Avenue store will open the glass doors to anyone—grown-up or kid—with an idea for a new toy or confection. When the company started these auditions last year, some 100 inventors showed up, and four ideas were selected—a digital photo album, a handcrafted sled, a board game about the judicial system, and a bucket seat to use with car-racing video games. This year, the new FAO CEO, Ed Schmults, and his staff are ready to evaluate the 2006 crop. “I spend the time on my hands and knees looking at things, riding on vehicles, and peppering the inventors with questions,” he says. Not surprisingly, Schmults got a request to make the auditions into a reality-TV show but says he declined. “Why subject them to that type of horror?” he says about the inventors. “I want to do nothing to discourage people to come in.” To that end, Schmults is itching to see things that, he says, “are not part of the toy-business machine. There’s not a lot of creativity out there, and I’m startled by that.” Those lucky enough to be chosen are on the inside track toward venture capital and an exclusive FAO deal. His business role model? Not Toys “R” Us but Whole Foods. “Even though you paid more, you walk out with a smile.”

Fifth Ave. at 58th St. (212-239-7363, ext. 242 or fao.com); free.


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