The D23 Sneak Preview of the New Times Square Disney Storeby Chris Barry, contributing writer
If you’ve read my columns at all over the last few years you know that I have a large collection or accumulation (as it’s been called) of Disney stuff in my home. From your responses it seems like many of you do as well. So where do we, as Disney fans, venture to get all of this stuff? There are many answers to that question. Walt Disney World or Disneyland are probably the most preferred answers, I’m sure.
What’s the next best thing to shopping the Emporium or MouseGear? I guess that would have to be The Disney Store. Whenever I’ve needed a quick Disney “fix” I could conveniently head out shopping and end up in my local Disney Store at the mall. The music, the big video screens, the mountain of Disney plush characters, and the original “big figs” strewn throughout the store could certainly put you in the mood for magic.
However, in the last few years of Disney Store shopping, I’d have to say that it’s been slim pickings for us adult Disney fans; a wall of Princess items, a wall of Cars toys, another wall of Toy Story items, and display or two of the latest theatrical release merchandise. If you looked hard enough, you might find a few T-shirts, some mugs, and every once in a while find something unique like the Oswald collectibles or some Muppet stuff. Gone were the animation cels, the watches, the Disney Classics Collections, and most other things of interest to adults.
This wasn’t the case, however, with the 5th Avenue World of Disney. Run by Disney Parks and Resorts, the NYC World of Disney was just what I was looking for to tide me over until my next trip to Orlando. It was a fairly immersive place with unique merchandise, collectibles, character meet and greets, and enough Disney magic to whet my appetite. So it was with a heavy sigh that I heard the news that the store was closing at the end of 2009.
Once Disney reacquired their stores from The Children’s Place, I let out a much bigger sigh of relief when I learned that they were taking over the massive Times Square Virgin MegaStore and building a brand new Disney Store. With that happy news I ventured into the city this past Sunday for the special D23 Sneak Preview of the new Disney Store in Times Square.
The cold morning certainly didn’t keep the D23 members away. Indeed, we all waited patiently outside the massive store entrance on Broadway and were greeted by a very bright and welcoming sign.
As we were all let in, the downstairs portion of the store was available for shopping. Disney Store President Jim Fielding was present for this D23 member’s only event, and told us that the 1st floor of the store contains about 80% exclusive-to-this-store merchandise. Much of it was NYC merchandise like the Statue of Liberty Vinylmation, which found its way home with me.
Speaking of Vinylmation, many of the D23 members hurried over to this display for the 9-inch graffiti style figure created just for this event. It differs slightly from the “Taxi” Vinylmation that will be sold exclusively at this location. The store's castmembers couldn't bring these out fast enough.
Many were also clamoring for the special stretched canvases that were created just for this event like this Belle…
...and the Snow White, which also made it home with me. These were extremely limited editions. The Ariel had a run of 100 and had an added bonus—more on that later. Each of the other princesses: Cinderella, Belle, Snow White, and Tiana were all limited to only 10 each.
As you enter the store you spot the vintage Mickey flanked by twinkling versions of New York City landmarks like The Empire State and Chrysler buildings.
The walls are covered with simple sketch-like versions of all your favorite characters.
Many of the characters appear in silhouette.
There’s a fairly large, working carousel type of display in the center of the floor featuring plush animals and NYC themed clothing.
After about 30 minutes of shopping and photo taking we followed the long escalator to the top floor alongside silhouettes of Dumbo, Peter, Wendy, John, and Michael from Peter Pan, the Lion King’s Zazu and an electronic pixie dusted Tinker Bell.
The second floor is the granddaddy of the new Disney Store design. While speaking with Disney Store President Jim Fielding, I told him I had already been at the new store at the Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island. He referred to this location as, “The Roosevelt Field Store on steroids!” He was right. The design elements are very much the same, just on a grander scale suitable for Times Square: the “Crossroads of the World.” If you haven’t been to a new style Disney Store they are broken up into what Mr. Fielding referred to as “neighborhoods.” Here in New York City there is a Toy Story neighborhood, a Phineas and Ferb neighborhood, and among others a Marvel neighborhood, which is a first for any of the Disney Stores.
You are guided through the store by a pixie dusted marble pathway that takes you past these plexi-glass trees that are constantly bathed in different projections.
We were treated to a delicious continental breakfast.
A gazebo–like structure that features the Disney Store Theater anchors the store. Guests can choose which videos they want to see on the giant screen and then sit and watch inside the gazebo. It was from here that Jim Fielding addressed us all. He told us with much exuberance how much “We all love D23.” Jim’s an animated man who seems very passionate about his job and about Disney. To me he seems like just the guy that a Disney fan would want running the Disney Stores worldwide. He spoke about the interior of what is now the largest Disney Store in North America; how they removed the former Virgin Megastore’s mezzanine and most of the 4th floor to give the store the high ceilings and more grandeur that it deserves. He joked about how the Disney Store in Paris is the most profitable, but since the New York store started soft openings, they’ve been calling Paris each day to make sure they were beating them. Indeed, the store has been constantly busy since opening last week. They have had to increase the store closing time from 12 midnight to 1 AM just to accommodate the crowds.
My favorite moments of Fielding's discussion were his honest comments about how it was a rough few years at Disney Store and that now that they had bought the stores back from The Children's Place, it was time to announce that the Disney Store was back. What better way to announce you're back than by opening a grand store in New York's Time Square. It was refreshing to hear him address what many of us Disney fans have known and griped about for some time now; that the Disney Store experience has certainly been lacking that extra magic that we've come to expect.
After answering some questions from the crowd, Mr. Fielding introduced the morning's special guest, The Little Mermaid herself, Jodi Benson. Ms. Benson made some gracious comments and acknowledged how happy she and her family were to have a Disney Store back in New York City. She was then presented with her own copy of the Ariel canvas specially created for this event. She supposedly had not seen it prior to the unveiling and graciously sat for pictures and signed the copies purchased earlier by the very happy D23 members in attendance. That's a great collectible that I'm sure they will all cherish.
As my daughter and I lingered around and took some photos, Jodi Benson finished signing her autographs and then retreated to the princess neighborhood inside the towering castle at the rear of the store.
Beneath the enormous chandelier, flanked by plenty of princess merchandise are two "magic mirrors." When you grab one of the Disney Princess's wands and wave it over the crystals on top of the frame, the mirror transforms into a video monitor and your chosen princess appears and talks to you.
It was great to watch the Disney photographer pose Ms. Benson in front of the mirror while Ariel appeared and spoke to her. She also took several photos with the new singing Ariel doll that features her voice.
When you look high up on the walls in the Roosevelt Field Store, you see silhouettes of Disney characters and icons like Cinderella's Castle. What I really appreciated about the Times Square store were its nods to its location, like Woody here mimicking the nearby Statue of Liberty…
...and Ned Brainard's "Flubber Mobile" from The Absent Minded Professor flying between this familiar set of buildings from Central Park West.
All in all, a good time was had by all the D23 members in attendance. If you find yourself in the Big Apple, make sure you see it. To paraphrase Disney Store President Jim Fielding, "There's a new Disney Store in town," so go check it out. I don't think you'll be disappointed.