Looking back at the New York Toy Fair and the International Toy Center – Toy Tales | Todd Coopee

Looking back at the New York Toy Fair and the International Toy Center

This weekend marks the start of the 112th North American International Toy Fair. Dubbed the “largest toy show in the western hemisphere”, the 4-day event at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City attracts scores of buyers, exhibitors, play professionals, and media from around the world.

Before all the downsizing, mergers, and acquisitions that have taken place in the toy industry over the past two decades, the New York Toy Fair lasted for several weeks. The event also took place at another key location in Manhattan, a building in the Flatiron district of Manhattan known as the International Toy Center.

Cornerstone of the Toy Market

Delving into the history of the International Toy Center reveals the tremendous impact it had on the sales and marketing of toys in the United States. Located at 200 Fifth Avenue and spanning an entire city block, this landmark structure became a hub for the U.S. toy industry during World War I. By the late 1960s, it had expanded to two buildings connected by a glass pedestrian bridge. Trade ads at the time referred to the building as “The Toy Center of the World” and the street it was located on as “The Street of the Toy Makers.”

The center housed showrooms for every major toy company in the United States, including major industry players like Kenner, Tonka, Hasbro, and Mattel. The building (in partnership with the Jacob Javits Convention Center) also co-hosted the American International Toy Fair every February. During the show, sales agents, importers, and distributors from around the country congregated at the Toy Center to assess new toy lines and do their buying and selling.

A Victim of the Times

Over time, economic realities began to take a toll on The International Toy Center. Rival developers started to lure away tenants into other buildings in Manhattan. The entry of mass-market merchandisers into the toy business, such as Target and Walmart, put pressure on smaller toy companies that resulted in downsizing, mergers, and acquisitions.

In 2005, with vacancy rates hovering around 60%, The Toy Center was sold to a luxury condominium developer. The industry’s symbolic epicenter disappeared, and the annual Toy Fair became the primary venue for toy buyers, now compressed into four days.