The Vacation Kingdom of the World: The Shop around the Cornerby Tom Richards, contributing writer
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.
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.
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.
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.