The Vacation Kingdom of the World: The Shop around the Corner

by Tom Richards, contributing writer
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They say a good story never dies.

Take the 1940 Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan film The Shop around the Corner. It was a successful film once, which was told again as the 1949 Judy Garland and Van Johnson musical In the Good Old Summertime, and again in the 1998 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan film You've Got Mail. This old-fashioned story, about two pen-pals who fall in love while working at a small, family-owned store (with slight alterations for the 1998 version) never fails to charm. There's something all-American about that mom-and-pop shop on the main street of every hometown that is perennially engaging.

As Walt Disney and his Imagineers went about recreating a "hometown" feeling for Disneyland—and later at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom—it is no surprise that one of the key elements of that loving recreation of years-gone-by was the inclusion of charming small shops. This approach to merchandising influenced the design of shops throughout the Magic Kingdom, in Epcot's World Showcase, and along Hollywood Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Sadly, most of the cozy, unique design aspects of these shops have been lost to "progress." The physical layouts of shops are now more mega-mart than Main Street, and the once carefully themed merchandise is now homogenized Walt Disney World—or worse, Disney Parks—branded plush, shirts, cups, mugs, magnets, albums, ornaments, and toys.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with Disney-themed merchandise; after all, what's more Disney than Mickey Mouse? But for frequent guests part of the joy of shopping at the Vacation Kingdom of the World is the chance to discover unique items, many from locations around the world. Before there was a World of Disney at the Disney Village Marketplace, there were various smaller shops stocking a plethora of interesting items. Before World Showcase shops stocked Disney toys made in China, merchandise was once themed to—and often produced in—the countries represented by the various pavilions. Before generic Christmas merchandise crowded its shelves, the Silversmith and Olde World Antiques stocked fine home furnishings in Liberty Square.

So while those days are sadly gone, with a lot more effort, guests can still find some charming "little" shops here and there to find treasures for themselves, their homes, and their loved ones. Best of all, everything at these shops doesn't necessarily scream Walt Disney World.

Der Teddybär

While this charming shop in Epcot's Germany pavilion is a shadow of its former self, it often features unique gifts even in its present, truncated version. Located off the St. George Platz to the right of the perennially popular Biergarten Restaurant, Der Teddybär once featured made-to-order dolls, a wide variety of Steiff stuffed toys, and splendid trains. In fact, a large toy train encircled the shop along a suspended railway for more than twenty years. Even without these charms, the store is still a joy.


A lamb from Der Teddybär on display in the author's home. Photo by Tom Richards.

Over the past four years, my sons have found some wonderful things here. When they were three, we used their gift cards from their great-grandmother to purchase colorful wooden pull-along toy trains made of blocks. When they were four, each boy chose a wonderful Steiff animal. While the selection is very small now—nothing like the huge variety once featured, a selection that rivaled even Teddys Rothenburg in the German village of Rothenburg ob der Taber—we found a clever brown monkey and a shy little turtle that just had to come home with us. Last year, we added to our collection of medieval toys with a few brave Schleich knights and a fearsome-looking green dragon. The shop is small, the hosts and hostesses always personable, and while the selection is not what it once was, Der Teddybär is a "must-see" on every visit.

The Animation Gallery at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Sadly the original artwork, hand-painted cels, and breathtaking Walt Disney Classics Collections figurines no longer line the walls of shelves of this little gallery located right outside of the Magic of Disney Animation attraction. The shop does, however, stock some wonderful Disney collectables, some of which may be sold out at the larger shops located throughout the Walt Disney World property. While the shop stocks the ubiquitous (and in my opinion annoying) Precious Moments figurines, it also stocks a good variety of other limited edition Disney figurines. After searching the entire resort, we found the bronze "Partners" sculpture here. For all the strangely popular Vinylmation figurines and the ever-present Disney pins, many wonderful typically out-of-stock items can be found here: the Mary Blair Contemporary Resort vase, the Polynesian Resort chip bowl, the Frontierland directional sign, and the impossible-to-find Ariel figurine were all here on our last visit.

There are also some items only found here, including a wide selection of animation books (some how-to editions geared for children and lots of animation history books for grown-ups). Best of all, this shop still stocks a line of limited-edition hand-painted cels featuring favorite Disney characters. At times, these cels recreate favorite scenes from films. Others commemorate attractions, Disney park anniversaries, or historic events (like the millennium). Available unframed, gold-framed, black-framed, and with or without an accompanying pin, these affordable, unique items are definitely "Disney" but are often subtle enough to display in your den or office.

Best of all, this shop is usually quiet, so expect that old-time, over-the-top Disney merchandise service from the cast members here.

Yong Feng Shangdian Department Store

While not as overflowing with treasures as it was before the recent remodel, this sprawling establishment in the heart of the China pavilion is still chock-full of surprises in a wide-range of prices sure to fit any budget. Charming tea sets line the shelves with designs often unavailable elsewhere, from traditional floral sets to more modern interpretations inspired by anything from lily pads to orchids. Beautifully colored metal boxes, vases, and jars sparkle in a variety of sizes suited for a dresser or a front porch. For kids, there are dolls, dragon figurines, parasols, puppets, and toys galore. We once found a set of wonderful clay warriors and horses for the shelves in our den. The Yong Feng Shangdian Department Store is definitely worth a visit; as a bonus, there are often unannounced sales here as well.


Tea sets for sale at the Yong Feng Shangdian store. MousePlanet file photo.

Your Little Shop around the Corner?

Even though it takes a little more effort to find these unique places to spend your Disney dollars, it's often worth the extra effort if you are looking for something other than the standard "Disney World" emblazoned shirt or knick-knack. Be sure to let us know the names of some of your favorite places to shop throughout the Vacation Kingdom of the World.

 

Comments

  1. By MyTwoCents

    With no disrespect to another fine article from Tom I feel the need to point out a leitmotif he acknowledges: The depth and quality of merchandise in the cleverly-themed yet ever-shrinking shops "ain't what it used to be." Yet there are two outlet malls nearby to WDW specializing in the mass-produced trinkets no one seems to want to buy: endless Vinylmation variations and the latest incarnations of the Duffy Bear, for instance. Yes, we can still find something truly worth cherishing and displaying with taste in our homes, but the pickins are gettin' mighty slim.
    By the way, for the second time in a row Disney has promoted the CEO of DisneyStores to run DisneyParks. The connection is crystal clear: the Disney Company sees their Parks as great big Disney Stores.

    Remember when the Imagineers ran the show?

  2. By danyoung

    I remember the unique shops back in the old days of DL, especially the Pendleton shop in Frontierland. I can't blame Disney for wanting to make more money, but there truly was something special about these shops that is sadly lost.

  3. By mkelm44

    I personally love the Art of Disney store in downtown disney, especially when they have an artist there. There are some pretty unusual pieces of art there that you can't find anywhere else, including some custom work.

  4. By olegc

    I miss the Pendleton store as well. I bought a tie while in High School - folks thought I was crazy because it did not say Disney on it - but I thought it was unique and I knew where it came from. The old store model in New Orleans Square - with true NO-based items - was also unique in its day.

    I also miss the old Market House - now if I want to find kitchen-related merchandise I have to hunt for it - when before I knew where to go.

    I think we as more avid Disney fans notice the details and unique elements. I don't necessarily blame the Disney company for going after easy money and low hanging fruit - since the masses tend to buy the generic stuff (or they would not put it out there). You'd think, though, with the profits that are made (and this year they were good) they would be able to continue to devote some space and time and quality to those unique elements for the repeat visitor. Oh well.

  5. By cbarry

    I've always seemed to do very well at the Contemporary gift shop Bayview Gifts.

  6. By carolinakid

    Since the merchandise has become so generic, in all honesty I rarely go into any of the shops at all anymore. I used to also always buy some sort of resort hotel specific merchandise (usually a T or sweat shirt) each visit but that's pretty much gone.

  7. By worldlover71

    You mentioned the three film versions of the story but there was also a charming Broadway musical from 1963 called She Loves Me. You can't keep a good story down!

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