What Will Become of New York Toy Fair?

New York Toy Fair: A Change of Season, Not of Scenery

If you’ve been in the toy industry for as long as I have, you have fond memories of the glory days of NY Toy Fair… the incomparable human traffic jam at the front doors of 200 5th Avenue (aka the International Toy Center, which we lovingly referred to as “The Toy Building”), the long wait for an intimately-packed elevator ride, the highly-immersive and ridiculously-expensive showroom designs that rivaled some Hollywood sets, and the actors who brought the story of every new toy line to life. When I worked full-time for a handful of toy manufacturers before establishing my own design consultancy, I remember desperately hoping that I’d be selected to go to NY Toy Fair, not just to help set up the showroom, but to actually attend the show.

When I started Design Force, Inc. back in 1990, it was our biggest show of the year. And I couldn’t wait to be there. It was February in New York City. It was grueling. And it seemed to snow more often than not. But, it was the best place to be to network, to keep our fingers on the pulse of our industry… and to get inspired.

NY Toy Fair loses its home… and much, much more.

The International Toy Center stopped hosting NY Toy Fair when it was sold to a luxury condominium developer and the entire show was moved completely to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. I embraced the idea and looked forward to the first NY Toy Fair in its new location. Part of Toy Fair had been hosted by the Javits Center for many years, and I had attended other trade shows there. So, I knew what to expect. A more open, free-flowing floor plan with mostly open booths and a more visually-exciting atmosphere. But, for some reason, it just wasn’t the same. For me, it somehow lost something. Something critical. Something magical. At the Javits Center, Toy Fair just felt like every other trade show.

Old-school toy industry people are no strangers to major change. Over the last three decades, alone, we’ve witnessed fundamental shifts in the toy business from the dominance of brand licensing to the effects of mass-market retailers putting pressure on smaller toy manufacturers, resulting in bankruptcies, downsizing, mergers and acquisitions. As an industry, we don’t push back against change, we roll with it. And we always find a way to make things work. When you love something dearly, that’s what you do.

Covid-19 cancels NY Toy Fair. Twice.

As we were unknowingly about to face a global pandemic, NY Toy Fair 2020 took place mere weeks before the entire world went into lockdown. Given the state of the world a year ago, NY Toy Fair 2021 was canceled as expected. As discouraging as this was, we remained hopeful that things would improve over time, and that the industry’s beloved trade show would return for 2022. As the show drew nearer, the highly-contagious Covid-19 Omicron variant created new concern over global travel and trade show attendance. A little more than a month before the show was scheduled to take place, the Toy Association announced the cancellation of NY Toy Fair 2022.

The Toy Association’s President & CEO, Steve Pasierb, issued the following statement along with the announcement: “Key to our efforts these past two weeks has been the balance of some 700 remaining committed toy manufacturers saying they need and want Toy Fair 2022 to build their businesses, weighing that against those departing and seriously on the fence, and needing to provide a sufficient quantity and quality across the retail buying community necessary to deliver a positive experience. As that balance has shifted, we are obligated to make the best decision in everyone’s interest no matter how heartbreaking for so many and potentially damaging to some business’ future prospects. The wide range of other events that occur across New York City during Toy Fair week are now also impacted.”

The news was devastating – especially to exhibitors who had made considerable financial investment and an unwavering commitment to participate. But, we understood that the show wouldn’t be the same if the entire industry wasn’t all-in. So, we started to come to terms with having to wait another year for its return.

But, wait… will it return??

Unprecedented change was in store for our beloved trade show

News broke on February 7th that there was serious talk of major changes for NY Toy Fair. One scenario would be to move the NY Toy Fair date from February to the fall, which is an idea that had been on the table for quite some time. Moving the show to the middle of the Holiday peak period would provide more media attention for manufacturers than it would enjoy in February. The more alarming potential change would’ve been to move Toy Fair out of New York City, its home for the last 119 years, if the Javits Center couldn’t accommodate a fall date. Other cities that were being considered were Las Vegas, Orlando and Chicago.

Sure, we can deal with the change of moving the show up a few blocks and over to the West side of town. But, to abandon the city the show has called home for more than a century? That would’ve been a massive mistake.

Then, on February 22nd, The Toy Book revealed  that The Toy Association is making plans to move Toy Fair to the fall in 2023, likely in September. But, it will remain at the Javits Center. Additionally, a fall toy preview event will take place this year in Dallas from September 20-22. And Toy Fair Dallas will be cancelled.

So, there you have it. Change is happening. And I’m ready to embrace it. Especially since the show is remaining in New York City… where it belongs.

Questions:

  • How are you affected by the show being cancelled for the second consecutive year? What are the implications for you or your business now that the show is being moved to the fall?
  • If you’re not in favor of the show moving to the fall, would you prefer that it be hosted out of town? If so, why?

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