Friday, February 24, 2006

Those Were the Good Ol' Days



Main Street U.S.A. used to be a place where you could believe for a moment that Norman Rockwell's America truly did exist, a fanciful evocation, a sense memory if you will, of a kinder gentler turn of the century America.

On the surface it's all still there, but creep inside any of those charming buildings and you might think you've stepped into a Disney Store circa 1985.

It's as if Park Management figured Grandpa was dead and nobody would ever know the difference. Moving as much Pooh Plush as possible? Now that's an idea!

Where's that recreation of an old fashioned Pharmacy? Where's that great wood paneled Bank? Where's the Barber Shop? The Haberdashery? Those intricate elaborate window displays begging for a child's face print on the glass?

Who knew that Great Grandma could pick up a Mickey Tee at the local Nickelodeon?

To think there was a time when you could actually find women's lingerie, fine art and specialty automotive wares on Main Street. Today it's all tee-shirts, keychains and stuffed fuzzies as far as the eye can see. Step inside the Silent Movie Theater in Walt Disney World's Main Street and instead of a Buster Keaton flick you'll find a shelf full-up of Pocahontas swag and yet another cash register.

It's time for Disney guests to rediscover a little more of the theme in theme parks. If they are going to pick up a keepsake while visiting the Magic Kingdom let it not only be something they can't find anywhere else but make sure it's unique to the area they're visiting.

A Disney Princess outfit on sale in Frontierland?

Why not.

24 comments:

Don said...

Well, yeah, but the women's underwear sure as heck didn't *last* very long. Walt had an interesting idea getting most of those stores leased out, and that's what gave it such variety - but it was also his idea to take those spaces over when he got the money. I do love that the Emporium is sort of a one-stop souvenir shop, but I agree that some toning-down could occur elsewhere. But I'd still like to see things keep a "Disney" theme in the merchandise - after all, I didn't pay $60 to buy aspirin or see a bank. The barber shop can come back - that was as much entertainment, and a unique experience. It's nice having a "watch store" with Disney watches, and I like having a Disney-specific music store. Main Street is *supposed* to be retail,and I don't mind it being retail; if some theme can be brought into that retail,so much the better. But don't just make it a museum to bygone days with pointless recreations of things that have nothing to do with my theme park visit. Example: If a recreation pharmacy was primarily a soda shop (a la the one next to El Capitan), now that'd be welcome. It'd be a look at a real bygone era, but there'd be a point to it - I could get a treat you just can't readily get anywhere else. If a recreation bank primarily existed to house ATM machines and other services that were of some use, then okay. Even a hat shop would have a place, especially if it was one, last place where you could get hand-stitched names on your mouse ears. But lingerie? Nah.

bigdaddyvalckx@gmail.com said...

This is a great read. I'm glad to see that there are some fresh faces and ideas moving in at Disney. Things that are old aren't always in need of replacement, and I'd love to see some of these great ideas re-envisioned for the 21st century and beyond. Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! I love WDW. My company, Kinko's, rewarded my store's hard work in 2005 by sending us to WDW. We had a blast - BUT - it was distressing to see so many "junk" stores on Main Street. Only the building facades offered any real atmosphere. I hope Walt's vision for Main Street can be restored. I must say that what I've read of the changes taking place since Mr. Iger took over and the Pixar folks were let in gives me hope. I support you guys 100 percent! I'm sure Walt would too.

MikeM said...

A lot of these points touch on what I think the real problem is..that Disneyland isn't really -about- anything anymore except extending the brand. I read a column a few months back that talked about this extensively:

http://www.laughingplace.com/News-ID509690.asp

SweetJ said...

I remember going to WDW when I was seven or eight, and my Dad took me to the penny arcade on Main Street. When I returned some fifteen years later, the penny arcade was gone. In it's place, another store full of the same crap you could buy anywhere on property. Get rid of a few shops on Main Street, and bring back whatever was there to begin with. Because that is a big part of what people want to see when they return ten or fifteen years later.

Tom Dial said...

I have to agree with Ken Bruce. I find the commercialism offensive and miss the fun that was and could be Disney, the fun that has, too often, been sacrificed to maximizing profits.

Ted said...

I used to be a merchandise host in Fantasyland at Disneyland in the late 80s and back then we had some stores (Geppettos Workshop for one) that sold VERY unique items. The problem is that back in my day we had A's B's and C's. A's were full time cast members and in merchandising some of them were assigned to a particular store and they were essentially the store manager. They knew their product lines inside and out, they were usually older and had been with Disneyland five plus years. A high school kid can't just walk in off the street and sell speciality merchandise like that. Geppetto's Workshop had Hummels, Lladros and imported German clocks and other speciality merhandise including an $8,000 chess set. Geppetto's never saw alot of traffic, however one sale would pay for the staff for a whole week. The bad news for Disney was the A's were usually on the top end of the pay scale and Disneyland forced a lot of them out.
Now Geppetto's Workshop has had a leasee or a junk store selling Mickey Mouse erasers. I'm sure that Disney is making alot more money off either one, but it's also missing a VERY special store. Not alot of people would buy anything, but most people still liked to look at all the neat and unique merchanside. I even once heard that some people used to enter Disneyland specifically to visit and purchase at the "old" Geppetto's Workshop due to it's VERY unique product mix (think Lillian Disney's favorite store, the One of a Kind Shop).

Klark Kent 007 said...

At WDW, not only is the Penny Arcade gone, but also the Magic Shop & the Main Street Cinema. It would be brilliant to see shops related to the outside facade again.

Nothing more depressing to go into the Main Street Cinema and find a "Virtual Magic Kingdom" (mind you I enjoy it at home, but there is a time and place for everything). Didn't I just pay to go to the real one?

Joel said...

Unfortunately, once you've gotten used to 50%, 60%, 70% margins on retail - it's hard to ween off.

Kim EM said...

When I was a little girl, there was a REASON to go into the shops and stores on main street. Nowadays it's just something to walk through to get to the "real" park. How sad.

Michael Crawford said...

I think WDW's Main Street has suffered the worst in the last 15 years... I'd really like to get the cinema, penny arcade, and magic shop back.

What's really dumb is that I think they could probably charge *more* for unique, specific, and thematic merchandise than they do for the same old crap they sell everywhere else.

The problem is now, that if there isn't anything in one shop that strikes my fancy then I know that there is going to be NOTHING in the whole park that I want to buy.

MC

RogerRmjet said...

One of the things I really miss about Main Street in WDW was the side streets that they bulldozed to connect all the shops. The side streets offerred quaint little turns, places to relax, to pull you deeper into the fantasy. Also miss the shops actually selling what they appear to sell.

Another thing I'd like to see is better variety in the merchandise. What I mean is, for example, for the last three or four years I've wanted to buy a Walt Disney Studios sweatshirt. I got a T-shirt a few years ago that was grey and had Mickey's profile with a movie camera. Love that shirt, wanted a sweatshirt version. Have never been able to find one. All of the Disney-MGM shops have mostly WDW sweatshirts, and only one or two generic D-MGM sweatshirts. Last year, I finally found what I wanted (almost) at the AFI shop (where I got my original T-shirt), but it was red and hooded. Didn't want red and hooded, but that was the only style they had. So, my wife found the custom stitching station and had one made for me. Not exactly what I wanted, but much closer than red and hooded (and since my wife had it made, it's extra special).

Eddie said...

Main Street is a strange beast these days. It has many of the things people actually want in the Main Street area, but because of their lack of presentation or lazy execution, many people often overlook them and thus use Main Street for a cut through to get to the rest of the park.

I think Main Street chould be renovated to get rid of the Disney junk merch (which I can get anywhere in the park) and replace it with what Main Street is supposed to be - an idealized turn of the century American Main St. but with an updated twist.

A turn of the century bookstore with a representation of the huge amount of Disney book and related product - with a cafe... (a built in Starbucks in period costumes?)

A scaled down turn of the century virgin megastore?

A lavish new york city style turn of the century bank that is a full functioning bank.

A beauty shop that does manicures and petticures and fingernail painting etc.

A soda / pizza shop...

A spooky curiosity shop / magic shop / penny arcade.

At town hall you could hear different characters running for office and the park visitors get to vote for them... as well as other reenactments of similar daily life.

Through out the day the Disney royalty also 'perform' high teas and processionals and things. Little 'plays' that you might just 'happen' to see... not for an 'audience' just little bits of daily life of the characters in the park.

In short... there is a ton of stuff that could immediately be done to 'restore' the idea of Main Street as an attraction in and of itself and not just remain a second rate Disney Store pass through on the way to the car.

Eddie said...

to Don...

quote:

"...But I'd still like to see things keep a "Disney" theme in the merchandise - after all, I didn't pay $60 to buy aspirin or see a bank..."

True, but all these things are needed. The thousands of guests and cast members each day need access to basic banking and goods like aspirin. There is no reason not to represent them on main street in period dress and architecture. A mercantile of such items would certainly be appropriate for Main Street.

As much as goods are sold on main street, it also needs to be an attraction in and of itself.

Anonymous said...

The worst offender right now? "Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith" DVDs.

At WDW's MK (as of late February 2006), virtually every shop in the MK is selling these DVDs... not only on Main Street and Tomorrowland (and I'd totally understand selling them in Tomorrowland), but Fantasyland, Adventureland... and yes, Frontierland. You heard that right: "Star Wars" DVDs are being sold in Frontierland (but not, interestingly, "The Country Bears" DVD - despite the fact that guests coming out of the attraction would be more inclined to purchase it).

OTOH, just try to find ANY souvenir merchandise for Big Thunder Mountain. Go ahead - I double-dog dare ya. No t-shirts, no sweatshirts, no caps, nothing - not even a "Miner Mickey" plush. The only item I was able to find was a custom-made(!) wristwatch at the Main Street Watchmaker. Ditto "Country Bear Jamboree".

I honestly have to wonder how these Star Wars DVDs are selling, especially seeing as how they're not exactly in short supply outside the parks, and for a fraction of the price.

But... go to Madame Leota's Gypsy Cart and try to buy a copy of the Haunted Mansion DVD or even Jason Surrell's book "The Huanted Mansion: from the Magic Kingdom to the Movies". You won't find either of those (but you can buy Tim Burton's "Nightmare Before Christmas" DVD). Granted, The Haunted Mansion film was crap... but one would expect the House of Mouse to try to increase sales via their much-vaunted "synergy" at the park.

I yearn to see unique shops return to the MK in general, and Main Street in particular. Give us something unique to buy - we will.

L. R. Jonté said...

It was such a disappointment after years of being away, to go back and look for the old time hat shop, only to find a cheesey hat stand in its place.

A lot of the park's soul has been replaced with product placement and volume sales goals.

Tracy said...

I was just at WDW last month and what did I find in the corner of the athletic club 2 of the old penny arcade movie machines, they were plugged in and 1 of them actually worked, it was a great treat for me to be able to share with my 7 Y/O something I remembered from my childhood....
ah the good old days before "they" sold out....

Captain Slack said...

Eddie skrev:

(a built in Starbucks in period costumes?)

A scaled down turn of the century virgin megastore?


In the words of another animation company's mascot: "You, sir, are a mental case."

Anonymous said...

Time is taking us not just years but GENERATIONS away from Walt's original dream. His parks succeeded because unlike ANYTHING before or since they evoked time and place...each one unique. This immersion was accomplished thru visual and other sensory techniques. So, when on Main Street you WERE in 'turn of the century' America (albeit an idealized Disney version). Many young 'uns today can't relate to this theme park design because they never knew it. Each themed land was unique and the experience a pre-cursor to virtual reality technology, IMHO. I'm not an expert, just a life-long fan of all things Disney. The erosion of Disney's dream (and ours) into one big mall has been heartbreaking. I'm happy to know that there are many now working to restore and preserve Disney magic. One piece of advise to management...STEP ONE:STOP HIRING/GET RID OF any employee not appreciative of DISNEY's MAGIC! THAT IS THE ONLY THING YOU SELL THAT MAKES DISNEY UNIQUE! As we Boomers head to WDW for retirement and long-awaited jobs at WDW, snatch us up and LISTEN TO US! We'll help save this company!

SymbiosisHost said...

The shift in merchandise theming was an insidious canker on the parks, planted during the Eisner era. Old-style safari clothes in Adventureland; western-themed clothes, leather goods, etc.; the colonial-style shops in Liberty Sqaure (WDW), selling one-of-a-kind perfumes, pewter and silver; etc. - these were, in the 1950s through the '80s, essential components of theming. The merchandise might not have been as everyday as the storefronts suggested, but they were still more carefully chosen and displayed than the current load of lousy, ubiquitous character merchandise. I have lamented this shift for more than a decade, and would wish to see a return to the old care for theme, instead of the absolute bottom line, setting the tone for merchandising.

kitchenmage said...

I'm such a purist. My dad worked at the original park when I was a small kid in the 60s and it's all gone to hell since the 80s. Back in the day when it was the *only* park.

All I want to know is, do they still have the barrel of pickles in the Emporium on Main Street? Marketers would *kill* for the loyalty inspired by 5 cent pickles...and Disney seems to have happily thrown it away.

me said...

This is interesting--I don't know too much about the earlier days of Main Street, but on my last visit to WDW (in early January) I was really uninspired by the shops. I understand and don't discourage the general need to market and sell Disney goods in these shops, but couldn't they at least make them somewhat distinctive? There's a huge disconnect between seeing an old-fashioned Main St. facade, from an era in which stores still catered to specialty goods, and then entering and finding the same 10 products (whether stuffed bears or keychains) sold in every other store. I am a reasonably sophisticated/well-traveled adult, but I'm not expecting boutique-style unique goods--just a least a variety. A store could specialize in all of the stuffed animals/characters available, for example.

Dragonrider1227 said...

I understand this. I was annoyed to see that WDW had replaced stuff like the Penny Arcade and the movie theater for *gasp* MORE gift shops.

critifur said...

I love reading this blog, and wholeheartedly agree with EVERYTHING mentioned. Of course the comments concerning Main-street are also true, the more I read the more I remember about visiting the penny arcade, and actually getting my hair cut in the barbershop, along with the barbershop quartette singing nearby. I remember that the very reality to the street and the shops all over the Magic Kingdom kept me from rushing from ride to ride. I was not trying to fit it all in as we seem to do nowadays, rather I was enjoying the entire experience of it everything all. Instead of one day for every park, and still not getting to do it all, and the inherent disappointment that comes with running out of time. I would spend days in the kingdom. I would start out at the penny arcade, go to the magic shop... Every little thing was part of the adventure. I think we rush around in part to avoid really noticing what's missing and what is falling apart.