By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The World of Disney Store



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE RE-IMAGINED WORLD OF DISNEY STORE IN DISNEY SPRINGS

By Jim Korkis

When the World of Disney store opened October 2, 1996 at Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs), its first guests were given a colorful character map to help orient themselves to the massive 51,000 square feet of retail space referred to as “The Largest Disney Character Shop in the World.”

As Walt Disney World publicity described the World of Disney Store when it first opened: “It’s paradise for everyone, from the newest Mickey fan to the avid Disneyana enthusiast. Disney merchandise is arranged so artfully that this remarkable store is an attraction itself.”

However, time and operational needs change and so the World of Disney Stores both at Disneyland and Walt Disney World were recently transformed after more than a year of design and development. The Walt Disney World version opened October 27, 2018.

(c) Disney

The official Disney press release stated that the “re-imagined World of Disney stores are being transformed into contemporary, distinctly Disney retail environments.”

“We saw World of Disney as an opportunity to re-imagine what Disney retail is today,” said Alysia Kelley, vice president of visual merchandising and location strategy for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “The new store design highlights the best of what is current and new, while also celebrating classic Disney heritage based in storytelling.”

The transformation begins with the store’s exterior, which features new marquees and magical window displays. All of the large-scale character sculptures were removed from both interior and exterior of the store, and the Disney-patterned wallpaper and carpeting was scrapped in favor of a style reminiscent of an Urban Outfitters or Gap store.

Both stores feature an interior “loft-style” atmosphere with greater visibility for all the displays and merchandise.

Of course, there is a back story for the new design.

Imagineering show writer Kevin Lively shared, “This space used to be a bus depot for the Grand California Tours which partnered with the Grand Californian hotel in Northern California to take people on local tours. The bus depot eventually shut down and in the 1940’s Walt was trying to find a new place to inspire his animators.

“He found a space in Disney Springs in Florida and in Northern California. He leased out the space for his animators to get away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and Burbank and start working on what would be some of Disney’s most classic films. The animators worked in these warehouses for about 60 years, when in 1989 they decided to close them because they opened Disney-MGM Studios and had a dedicated animation space there.

“So these warehouses sat empty for years until they re-opened as the World of Disney as part of Downtown Disney. When it came time to fix up the stores this year for their rehab, they started taking down the drywall and these beautiful remnants of the past animation studio were revealed to the construction workers.

“Brick walls were revealed with forgotten signage for the bus depot. A wall of paint jars with some leftover magic had been previously drywalled over. And many sketches were unveiled. They used the Nine Old Men’s animator desks (that feature their sketches on the wood) to create the checkout space and the space is decorated with artwork, animation cels and hand drawn details from Disney’s body of work through 1989 when they were originally shut down.?

The space is still filled with nods to both the bus terminal and the animation studio, with a sign advertising bus tours painted above one archway in California and another indicating an Animation Annex in Florida as well as cash register areas created from reused Animation desks.

Animated displays, digital signs, video screens and special lighting effects are used throughout the store to make it easier to refresh the décor. The World of Disney remains an anchor location at Disney Springs and still reputedly offers the largest collection of Disney-themed merchandise in the world.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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