The Disney Store - A Targeted New Beginning?by Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer
Today's article is a sequel of sorts to something I wrote a couple of months ago, in which I wrote about the impending demise of the brick and mortar Disney Store and my visit to the Disney Outlet in Tampa, which at the time had been spared the axe. Well, Disney came out with another, presumably final, round of closures this week, and the Tampa axe has no longer been spared. That, and another 60 or so stores, will be closing by September 15.
After that fateful date, only 25 Disney Stores will remain in the United States. The remaining locations are generally in large outlet malls (so you can expect them to be Disney Store Outlets) or high traffic tourist areas such as New York and Las Vegas. Chip & Co. has published a complete list of closures and remaining stores.
For me personally, I'll be honest: this doesn't have a ton of impact. I remember when the stores first opened, and for years after that, they had a really wide variety of merchandise. In addition to toys and things for the kiddies, they had a Disney Gallery section with collectibles and clothing and other items for adults. In recent years, it seems they've focused more on low-end items and merchandise, generally for the under-12 set. I'm not knocking that. It's just not what I'm generally trying to find. As such, I haven't visited the stores all that often lately, though I liked knowing I could if I wanted.
I also happen to live near one of those high-traffic tourist areas I mentioned above. The mammoth, two-level, Times Square Disney Store is within walking distance of my office, and my favorite location of late—the Disney Outlet at the Jersey Gardens Mall—is sticking around, at least for now.
Most people won't be that fortunate, and if they need that Disney merchandise fix, it'll mean visiting the Shopdisney.com. Disney has promised there are big doings going on with Shopdisney (anyone who's had a wake-up call at a Disney Resort will get that reference) and promise major enhancements coming to that site. That said, shopping online isn't necessarily the same, and some of us still want something more tangible.
This is where other retailers—mainly Target—are stepping in to fill the void. Back in October 2019, Disney and Target announced a collaboration in which Target would establish "Disney store at Target," which they described as a shop within a shop.
The idea is that people can walk into their local Target and have a Disney-like experience. The concept was described in the press release as "We've brought the magic of Disney to Target, bringing together great merchandise amidst an experience that's truly immersive and unique. Guests will be able to connect with the Disney characters and stories they love in a meaningful way while accessing the latest and greatest Disney products, including items previously only available at Disney locations."
The Disney store at Target was further described as offering "a welcoming and engaging shopping experience for the entire family, with music interactive displays, photo opportunities and a seating area where families can relax and watch Disney movie clips and play games. Guests will be able to wear Mickey's magic hat, pose with a life-size lightsaber and wear a prince or princess crown."
There are a few things to unpack here. First, if you look at both quotes from the press release, it sounds an awful lot like the Disney Store, or at least the Disney Stores of old. They don't just talk about merchandise, but also experiences. You can play a game, watch a movie and try things on. Those are things you'd expect at a Disney location, but not necessarily at a big box store.
The other thing that jumped out at me was that they're including items previously only available at Disney locations. The exclusivity debate has been raging amongst Disney fandom for quite some time. Once upon a time, if you wanted that specific Mickey Mouse watch or sweatshirt, you had to visit The Emporium on Main Street U.S.A. to get it. Then that sweatshirt became available at the Disney Store and outlets. Then you got to buy it online, and now you can apparently get it at Target.
I joke (a bit). The Disney merchandise universe is so vast, that there will always be items you can only get in certain venues. I will leave it to the Mouseplanet followers to debate how exclusive is good exclusive.
When this was announced back in late 2019, there were 25 Target test locations that were getting the Disney Store inserts, with the promise of 40 more by late 2020. The 25 stores were named and were in locations as far flung as California, Alabama, Colorado and Florida. The Disney Store at Target idea continues to grow, and in conjunction with the latest Disney Store closure announcement I mentioned at the top of the article, Target announced the addition of at least 100 more of these shop within a shops by the end of 2021, at a fairly substantial average size of 750 square feet (a little larger than my first New York City apartment).
I should also mention at this point that Disney store at Target, of course, has a website where you can purchase their merchandise. I have to say, it's actually pretty cool and well set up. There are literally hundreds of items available, and you can graphically search through them by type (toys, clothing, etc.) or by Disney property (animated film, etc.). There are sections for Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars, and even categories for National Geographic and 20th Century Fox, both now owned by Disney. The site actually reminds me a lot of Shopdisney.com, so I'd recommend you check it out.
Getting back to the brick and mortar, the pictures that I've seen (and shared above) seem to indicate that Disney store at Target delivers at least some of what was promised.
I see Mickey Mouse's magic sorcerer's hat and a "stained glass" backdrop from Beauty and the Beast, begging you to come take a selfie. There seems to be a fairly extensive collection of merchandise, including plush, clothing and books from properties as diverse as Frozen, Star Wars and all things Pixar. The Target touch of Bullseye, their mascot dog in the center, also makes me laugh a little. It all looks to me on the screen. Sadly though, I, your all knowing Disney shopping guru, have yet to set foot in one, though it wasn't for lack of trying.
You may be asking where you can check out a Disney store at Target for yourself. The answer is, I wish I knew. Again, at the 2019 announcement, there was a list of 25 locations published, but a fairly extensive Internet search failed to turn up any specific location announcements since.
Since I couldn't find a published list of locations, I went on my own intrepid journey through the wilds of suburban New Jersey to see if I could track a Disney store at Target down. I started with a basic Google search. A few Target locations near me revealed "Disney Store" in the location search result, so off I went. I visited three different Targets and threw in a Kohl's for good measure. What did I find you may ask? Um...Well.
At Target number 1 in Clark, New Jersey, I found, well, not much. There was Disney merchandise there, but it was kind of haphazard and not what I saw in the picture.
There was a smattering of toys available, but not a lot of rhyme or reason as to the selection or placement. Toy Story toys and princess dolls sat on the same shelf. There was an endcap of Mickey Mouse diapers a few aisles away.
Overall, I wasn't terribly impressed. So onto the next Target in Vauxhall. There, I found more or less the same thing: a hodge podge of items scattered over several different aisles.
At Target number 3 in Union, the signage was more clear, and the goods were more organized.
There were clear areas set aside for the Fab 5, Pixar and Star Wars, but it wasn't what I'd call a shop within a shop. It had a generic toy store feel without any of the embellishments described in the press release.
For a bonus stop (and because I also needed to buy a belt), I stopped at my local Kohl's in Watchung on my way home. Oddly enough, it was there I found the most clear Disney merchandise within a larger store.
There were signs on the walls that said "Disney", "Marvel" and "Star Wars", with related goods under them. There were clothing and toys arranged rather neatly and in the proper sections. Not a huge selection, but some fun stuff for the kids and definitely worth a visit.
To sum up my localish journey, I was not impressed overall with what I found. That said, to be fair, two of the three Targets I visited were under construction when I went (Target seems to be remodeling its stores nationwide). There were portions of each store blocked off and large areas that sat empty. While I did not see a Disney shop in shop rising from the ashes, it's possible it's part of a longer term plan. It's also likely the stores were in a bit of disarray during the construction and will be in much better shape when complete.
So, what do I think of the Disney store at Target concept and the idea of it being our best bet at getting our Disney fix near home? I'm going to tell one story and then follow my buddy Chris Barry's example, and not emphasize the negative (read his article about changes at Walt Disney World and you'll see what I mean).
I did the Walt Disney World Backstage Magic tour years ago, and as part of the tour, we got to talk to one of the guys who works in the maintenance shop that sits, I believe, behind the Magic Kingdom. He told us that Disney often engages outside contractors to do work in the park, is rarely happy with the result, and winds up using its own people to finish the job.
Anyone who's ridden The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in the park will remember the scene where Tigger says "come bounce with me." You then literally bounce for a few moments in your honey pot. The Tigger you see when he makes that exclamation is bouncing up and town on his tail, which is acting like a spring. The Disney cast member told us that a contractor came in to work on the ride and couldn't come up with a way to make Tigger bounce the way the park executives liked. He said there were a ton of elaborate mechanisms developed to make Tigger bounce, and they all looked fake and not fun.
He then suggested that they take a hose they had laying in the back, coil a spring around it and hook it up to a motor to create a simple bouncing motion. All loved it and Tigger, to this day, is bouncing on the Disney veteran's hose that he found laying around. I wish I remember his name so I could give him credit, but a Disney cast member, who cared, got the "bounce" done in a way an outsider couldn't.
The point of this long story, aside from giving me an excuse to tell a fun anecdote, is that for Disney, pretty much anything is best when done by Disney. In the case of the Disney Stores, under Disney's careful guidance, and with the help of the Imagineers, they started out as little bits of the magic in your local mall. Disney then sold/outsourced them to The Children's Place—causing, in my humble opinion, a loss in direction. The Disney Stores never completely got it back, even when Disney took over again. The point is, I maintain a healthy does of skepticism that someone else can fill the void being left by the closure of the Disney Stores.
I suspect when this program began back in October 2019, Disney was already laying the groundwork for its exit from the Disney Stores, with this being a way consumers could still have a local Disney Store experience.
That said, and this is where I get positive, Target, again, said all the right things when launching Disney store at Target, and the concept art and pictures I've seen from existing locations bear out what they said. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and give them a chance. I also suspect when this program began back in October of 2019, Disney was already laying the groundwork for its exit from the Disney Stores, with this being a way consumers could still have a local Disney Store experience. There's a method to the madness.
Hey, if can get my Disney fix on the same trip as one where I pick up socks, frozen pizzas and batteries, all the better. I joke again, but on a serious note, if they can build a little oasis of Disney magic that's close to home, I'll applaud them for it.
The world and how we shop in it is changing, so I understand Disney's need to adapt, and if outsourcing to Target is a way for them to save money while still giviing fans a great experience, I'll be all for it. I'll feel better when I see one in person, but for now, I'm hopeful that I won't have to travel all the way to Orlando or Anaheim to get my in person Disney shopping fix.
As always, I'd love to hear your comments, especially if you've actually been able to visit one of the completed Disney stores at Target.
Everyone stay safe and see you real soon.