29 years ago today, an entirely new idea in retail opened in the Glendale Galleria Mall in Glendale, California. Entertainment retail, it was called, and it was entirely owned and operated by the Walt Disney Company as way of getting Disney magic a little closer to him.
After phenomenal growth in the 1990’s–followed by nearly a decade of misguided management, a weird leasing agreement with another troubled retailer, and an invigorating reimagining in the 2010’s–Disney Store is once again a shining example of how Walt’s concepts for giving the customer what they want and exceeding their expectations in a magical setting extends beyond a theme park and into shopping centers around the world.
My professional experience with Disney began in 1993 at my local Disney Store. As a seasonal hire for Christmas that year, I spent five days a week welcoming guests into the old “pink and green” design stores, wearing my grey polyester pants and blue letterman’s sweater. I had a great time, but never expected to spend seven more years working there, ending my time as manager and winner of the Disney Spirit Award.
At Disney Store, I learned much about what it means to give guests more than what they want, to find ways to bring magic to everyday moments. While I had always been a fan of Disney, I grew to love talking about Walt and training new cast members (Disney Store-speak for employees) on the traditions and history of the Company he had started, and how we fit into it.
I learned how passionate people can be about their shared memories, their favorite characters, and I experienced firsthand the insane ways people go crazy for merchandise from a big movie. 1994’s The Lion King was akin to 2014’s Frozen, in terms of how anything remotely associated with the film flew off store shelves. Even crazier was the Buzz Lightyear debacle of 1995, which became an inside joke in Toy Story 2. But Christmas 1995 it wasn’t a joke. While we hand hundreds of Woody toys sitting on the shelf, people would call from around the world the minute we walked into the store to find out if we had the talking Buzz Lightyear with the pop-out wings. 99% of the time, the answer was no.
I was privileged to be one of the last Disney Triviateers in 1999, when the Disney Store Trivia Competition ended with its final showdown at Disneyland. While I didn’t win, I did come in third place and earned a unique title shared by only 75 other cast members in Disney history. I still love Disney trivia to this day, and often share it here (and on my Twitter and Instagram feeds).
Disney Store has been a huge part of my life, and I’m glad that they started on this day back in 1987. An experiment that has proven to be a great idea, Disney Store not only taught me much about how to be a leader and treat people in a way that can make even a bad day turn bright. Through smiles, great service, magical moments and great people, Disney Store has a solid legacy of helping people of all ages unlock their dreams and exceeding their expectations.
I know it exceeded my expectations. I went there looking for a job and eventually met my wife, who is now a manager at Disney Store herself. That’s a happily ever after that Walt would approve of!