The LaughingPlace Store
The Diz Biz
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Union Square Disney Store, San Francisco - January 2003
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Disney Store Memories
Personally, I have always found the Disney Stores ("TDS") concept to be perplexing, despite the fact that I was a TDS cast member during my college years nearly a decade ago. The cyclical "boom and bust" nature of the retail environment has seen the group burgeon during the heavy spending of the early nineties under the leadership of Paul Pressler to the vastly contracted marketplace in which the division currently operates. A massive overhaul of both product and store line-up with the constant flux of changing concept stores has left the Disney Stores stuck between your average national toy store and a speciality retailer. The guest service model has virtually disappeared along the way and the Disney Stores are now no more unique than your local KB or FAO location.
The Demise of Post Street
This impression was reinforced by the apparently recent decline of the 400 Post Street location off of San Franciscos Union Square. After a hectic New Year with our Laughingplace friends at the Disneyland Resort, Lindsay and I decided to head north to San Francisco to unwind prior to our return to the wintry climes of London. The Post Street store had always been a personal favourite of mine, but it appears that recent changes have rendered the store to be merely a clone of your local Disney Store in Everytown U.S.A.
San Francisco was one of the four flagship stores heralded by Paul Pressler as the future of the Disney Store concepts in Americas largest metropolis. It joined the illustrious list of the Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan, the Forum Shops on the Strip in Las Vegas and the Michigan Avenue unit in Chicago, as Disney Stores that were customised to their individual location rather than clones of the average mall store with their standardised fixtures and animatronics. Each was conceptualised with close supervision by Walt Disney Imagineering as the prestige developments that would act as both retail space for the Consumer Products division of the Company and as interactive advertising locations for other TWDC divisions to capitalise on the then-growing trend for cross-divisional synergy, championed so passionately by President & CEO Michael D. Eisner.
Each store was to feature Disney characters on vacation in each city. The Forum Shops location is the most elaborate with Mickey and Friends dressed as Roman centurions to complement the faux-Roman architecture prevalent through Las Vegas premium retail complex. The NYC and Chicago stores were more extravagant with gold plussing throughout and designed around the elegant department stores of the Roaring Twenties, avoiding the visible use of plastics and ply board and glamorising the retailing space.
The Post Street store took a slight different tack, as the store is closely based on the local Disney Store concepts with the standard red TDS fascia and only minimal theming for the surrounding locale. Instead, Imagineers created Disney-themed rooms throughout. The window displays are the only reference to San Francisco with a large Golden Gate Bridge in the window on Powell Street. The front zone is virtually identical to the Version 2.0 TDS with yellow piping forming the framework for the wall bays and the animation displays, often falling from the ceiling below the show line (a previous "no-no" in the original Version 1.0 stores) to encourage guests to absorb the show displays. Entering the Post Street store, most guests would recognise the design and layout of the front zone.
However, the middle and Post Street zone are unique to this location. Originally, the store was home to a now-defunct Walt Disney Gallery concept that split the standard TDS fare in half. The Post Street zone is themed to the Sorcerers Apprentice with an aquamarine colour scheme and Mickey parting the waves above the entrance to the middle zone. The Gallerys interactive display kiosks that used to teach users about the animation process remain in place, but have been switched off. The wall bays are now filled with the current trend of Disneys Cuddle Kingdom, filling the store with dozens of the same plush characters in varying sizes. This section also housed various snow globes and vastly discounted Christmas merchandise. The unit was full of damaged items and brown outer boxes, a procedure that was forbidden with the original TDS and guest service models. I was simply horrified to see such a beautiful sales location reduced to a stack of scuffed boxes and hotchpotch of plush toys that refused to sit on the shallow shelves.
The middle zone is designed around the Beasts castle from the 1991 Disney Classic, Beauty and the Beast. The warm yellows used on the walls and ceiling is characteristic of the ballroom sequence and the faux Beast busts are immediately appealing. The centrepiece of the room features a three dimensional Lumiere atop of a giant cake. The far wall consists of an advertisement window with stained glass to convey the impression that you are looking out over the Beasts castle grounds. The room has been reduced to simply being used as an outlet for Disneys Cuddle Kingdom product from giant characters to the various beanie babies still been churned out by the stores. Gone are the sericels, limited edition chargers and other one-of-a-kind collectibles that used to grace this flagship store.
The final section is themed to Alice in Wonderland. The soft green tones and giant roses were applied to this room to transport guests to the gardens of the Queen of Hearts as the Cards painted the roses. The room features the standard projection system on the back wall, beyond a canopy that houses a stunning series of sculptures of Alice, the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit. However, the back zone was in a horrendous mess when we visited on January 3 and 4 2003. Stock baskets and empty cardboard boxes littered the zone as the few cast members on-stage (I counted no more than five in this giant store at any one time) busily toiled away, trying to restore the store to some sense of normality. The zone was predominantly filled with San Francisco-themed TDS merchandise, discounted Lilo & Stitch and Treasure Planet toys and the usual mix of childrens and infant clothing.