The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Remembering Sid Cahuenga's and the Heritage Houseby Tom Richards, contributing writer
Walt Disney once proclaimed that "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." One of the key words in this pronouncement is "grow"—a word that is often misrepresented as "change" when the Disney Company misuses this sentiment to justify changes to beloved areas of Disney parks. Now, I support the notion that Disney Parks are not museums; by their very nature, they are living, breathing, ever-changing entities. And this is a good thing.
Nonetheless, there is understandably a sense of sadness for those of us who grew up at the Magic Kingdom when certain elements that make this place so dear are radically changed or removed altogether. It is true that the Disney faithful are the first to mourn the loss of this or that particular attraction or detail. In all fairness, it is also true that they also among the first to praise refurbishments and additions to already existing attractions (who doesn't love the enhancements to Big Thunder Mountain or the Haunted Mansion?). And of course, additional attractions are always welcome and greeted with enthusiasm, especially when they do not replace existing experiences or alter beloved vistas.
Still, change is hard. For me, the loss of details that add to the "show quality" of the parks is often the most difficult to accept. One element of the Disney experience that, in many guests' eyes, lacks imagination and innovation is Disney Merchandising. The distressing trend toward "Disney Parks"-branded clothing and memorabilia and the dearth of resort or "land" specific merchandise has been well-documented here and elsewhere. Today, however, I want to celebrate the things that make Walt Disney World great. So in this spirit of fond recollection, I would like to remember two small shops that recently closed in order to accommodate the infrastructure for Walt Disney World's behemoth rollout of MyMagic+.
Sid Cahuenga's One-of-a-Kind Shop at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Since opening day at the Disney-MGM Studios on May 1, 1989, this little California-style bungalow has been home to Sid Cahuenga's One-of-a-Kind Shop. In keeping with the "Hollywood that never was and always will be" theme of the Studios in its early days, Sid's was conceived as the home of an eccentric longtime collector of Hollywood memorabilia. The shop had an eclectic feel to it, a cross between a roadside shop and a yard sale. The front yard, in fact, was littered with everything from old-fashioned Christmas lights to a pink flamingo. The expansive front porch even featured merchandise, usually movie posters and lobby cards.
Once inside, guests were greeted by series of signed photographs of stars who actually visited the Disney-MGM Studios, each dedicated to the fictional Sid. Long ago, there was a "Star of the Day" at the Studios, complete with a small parade down to the Chinese Theatre Courtyard, handprints in the cement, and a meet and greet in the old theater that housed the first incarnation of the "Beauty and the Beast" stage show. These stars would often dedicate a photo to Sid who would proudly hang these mementos in his home for all to see.
On the left, a cozy fireplace featured rows of books on its mantel. Nearby, curio cabinets filled with small movie props, things like playing cards, jewelry, newspapers, hats, buttons, and other knick- knacks. Occasionally, the personal belongings of Hollywood's elite could also be found in these cabinets. There was an arts and crafts-style bookshelf featuring books on film and more often than not, autographed copies of books as well (we picked up a signed copy of Julie Andrews' memoir Home here a few years back).
The rest of this very small shop featured row upon row of lobby cards, promotional film materials, and 8-by-10 black-and-white photographs from early films, mostly from live-action Disney films. These were reasonably priced (usually between $5 and $10), and flipping through them was akin to finding buried treasure at a flea market or antique mart. The walls were lined with framed autographs of stars from motion pictures, television, professional sports, and—for lack of a better word—celebrity.
One unique feature of this shop was its initial approach to guest service. Staffed by relatively small group, cast members here really knew their stuff—about movies and about the merchandise featured at Sid's. Guests could ask the host or hostess about a specific person or a specific film and be told exactly which articles Sid had in stock that related to the guests' individual interests. In its original incarnation, Sid Cahuenga's met the onetime Disney mantra of "exceeding guest expectations" by providing a very unique, very well-themed experience.
The Heritage House in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom
A dear friend is a longtime merchandise manager at Walt Disney World who got his start on the College Program working in Magic Kingdom Merchandise. His first—and favorite—managerial position was at Liberty Square merchandise. When asked about his days in Liberty Square, he talks with fondness of the Silversmith and Olde World Antiques and the high level of attention he and his staff were able to provide for shoppers. A few years ago, however, he lamented, "Sadly, there really is no such thing as Liberty Square merchandise anymore."
There are, of course, plenty of shops in the Liberty Square area, but his meaning was quite clear: the unique Silversmith and Olde World Antiques have been replaced with the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, which now features the ubiquitous Disney-themed Christmas merchandise found in nearly every major shop on property.
Until very recently, there was one exception, one shop that retained the unique feel of the originals: the venerable Heritage House, a charming colonial shop near the exit of the Hall of Presidents. This cozy establishment embodied the look and feel of Colonial Williamsburg in great detail. Heavy wooden beams ran across the low ceiling; heavily leaded windows—complete with plenty of white panes—graced an eclectic group of windows looking out onto particularly picturesque squares and streets; charming wooden moldings filled the store; even the floor seemed to creak atmospherically. The merchandise was often unique here (although most of it is now also found at Epcot's Heritage Manor located next to the American Adventure). American history books, presidential memorabilia, Jim Shore patriotic figurines, and 1776-inspired Disney character merchandise lined the shelves of this establishment. There was also a family crest research facility available here. The past summer, we found a charming (and surprisingly affordable) tapestry featuring Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Donald Duck in their "Spirit of '76" attire, complete with an attractive wooden hanger.
Unfortunately, this shop's Americana-themed wares—along with those long-ago antiques and fine silver items—are no longer a part of the Walt Disney World show.
While I doubt that either of these shops broke any sales records, they were part of the overall "show" presented by the theme parks. In today's world of profit-per-square-foot retailing, purchase with purchase promotions, and pencil-pushing accountants, the likelihood that small, unique shops like Sid Cahuenga's and the Heritage House will ever reappear is very small indeed. That's unfortunate.
The closure of these two locations is hardly big Disney news; in fact, many—if not most—casual visitors might never even miss them. For families like mine who vacation at Disney World at least once a year, however, these losses do matter. If nothing else, the closure of Heritage House and Sid Cahuenga's makes me even more determined to stop and enjoy the little details on our next visit to the Vacation Kingdom of the World before it's too late.