Tuesday morning, June 29, inaugurated a new era in mall Disney Stores as members of the Disney community gathered in front of a single storefront for the grand opening of the redesigned Disney Store at the Shops at Montebello in Montebello, California.
If you’re never heard of Montebello, it’s southeast of Burbank, Calif. You may be asking yourself why such an important event as the unveiling of the new and improved Disney Store was done in what appears to be a rather obscure town. Two reasons – The store was contractually obligated to renovate if they were going to renew their contract. Plus, Montebello is not too far away from Pasadena, the Disney Store headquarters, allowing executives fairly quick access for check-ups and progress reports.
At the new store’s grand opening, the press received a tour from charismatic Disney Store President Jim Fielding, who took us along the path of the store, known as the “Pixie dust trail” to each “neighborhood” or themed section of the store, recalling the rooms in the World of Disney stores. The opening was accompanied by the usual pomp and circumstance – a Disney cast member got the ever-growing crowd waiting in line all riled up, Jim Fielding was presented with a plaque by the mayor of Montebello and Disney Channel stars Chloe Bridges, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, and Maria Canals were in attendance. Canals even brought her two daughters to help unlock the new store.
Here are a few video highlights from our trip around the store:
In planning how to approach the Disney Store redesign, Disney initially turned to the team behind Apple’s own hugely popular chain of retail stores – you know, the ones people line up for hours in front of to catch a glimpse of the new iPhone. About Apple’s early (but brief) involvement and the new direction of the store, I spoke with Disney Store President Jim Fielding:
I also chatted with Disney Store Vice President of Operations Paul Gainer about the newly redesigned store:
So will this new Disney Store redesign save the flailing chain? The answer is unclear. Disney is still rendering its stores for the child demographic with the slogan “The best thirty minutes of a child’s day.” As mentioned by Fielding and Gainer in the interviews above, there is new merchandise for teens and adults, with “Cars” Ridemakerz, Vinylmation and – hold your breath – one entire fixture of adult-sized t-shirts! Granted the t-shirts are pretty unique, so it’s worth checking out.
While Apple did not actually have a hand in the creation of the new store’s design, only initially advising Disney to take a careful look at what their mall stores should be about, the store does feature a unmistakably Apple-like feature called “Destination Disney,” a touch screen kiosk (complete with swooshing menu options) that allows guests to look into online content, from toys to clothing to collectibles.
There’s quite a bit of Marvel content, but surprisingly, there is not yet anything Marvel-related in the store. The much-anticipated portable check-out will not be live for a couple of months yet, but with the probable crowds it will surely come in handy.
The Ridemakerz station is already a hit, allowing guests to create one of three different Tow Maters, two Lightning McQueens or Sally. There is at least one Ridemakerz attendant and Disney Store cast members are also on hand to ensure your son or daughter does not screw him/herself to the table. Guests also have the option of buying the shell and going to a Ridemakerz location to pick out the parts.
Another highlight that happened to sell out on Tuesday is the exclusive Vinylmation selection. Execs and store managers touted this feature again and again, so it must be good. Make sure to take a look!
Some of the interactive and interesting features of the store are the Disney Store Theatre with a movie screen and video jukebox in which guests can choose from a pre-selected list of Disney songs and shorts what they want to watch. This also serves as a play area, rest area, coloring station, and birthday celebration stage.
The Princess castle is located in the front of the store, lest you worry that your little princess might pass over that new Cinderella doll or Tiana wand, which (with a cast member’s help) she can wave summon her favorite princess in the magic mirror.
Fielding’s favorite elements of the new store are the trees that have various Disney and Pixar characters projected in the branches. If nothing else, they adds to the theme. It is fun to watch the ants from “A Bug’s Life” and forest friends from “Bambi” weave in and out of the branches as you listen to an endless stream of classic Disney music.
Having not wanted to visit a mall Disney Store in around ten years, I can say that this is definitely an improvement, but there is still not enough in there for the twenty- to thirty-something demographic to really feel involved past a bit of nostalgia and maybe a new t-shirt or a giant Lotso (unless you’re a toy junkie a la John Lasseter – then it looks like a slice of gadget and gizmo heaven).
With the motto and all the promises of birthday celebrations, “imagination explosions,” and other events to come, the new design contains a myriad of interactive opportunities and merchandise to easily keep a child enticed for a good 30 minutes. If you do have little ones or experience Disney withdrawal in any way, take a peek at your local store once it’s redesigned, which should happen within the next five years if it is not already underway. If nothing else, you might find your favorite Disney song on the video jukebox!
(Video by Amy Rocchio, edited by Ricky Brigante. Photos by Amy Rocchio and Disney.)
More photos from the newly redesigned Disney Store in Montebello, California: