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Fridays with Jim Korkis: The Main Street Emporium Gallery



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 MAIN STREET EMPORIUM GALLERY

By Jim Korkis

The Main Street Emporium Gallery is the official name of the 2001 expansion of the Main Street Emporium into Center Street.

The expansion resulted in the replacement of the Hallmark Card Shop/Disney Clothiers and New Century Clock Shop, and the relocation of the Harmony Barber Shop. The entire west side of Main Street is now known as “the Emporium complex” rather than by individual store names.

The expansion added 4,600 square feet of retail space and featured an interior themed with crown molding, detailed wood columns, stained glass and an eighteen foot high ceiling. The “debut” of the store in 1901 references the birth year of Walt Disney.

On the back wall, a large mural displays happy customers and employees enjoying their shopping experience at the Emporium Gallery. In actuality, the mural depicts a number Imagineers who were responsible for the design, story, and execution of this addition.

One portrait is of Joyce Carlson, and can be found in the lower left corner of the painting. Carlson was a beloved and legendary Walt Disney World Imagineer who began her career in the Ink and Paint Department at the Disney Studios and was moved to Imagineering to work on the 1964 New York World’s Fair. In particular, she worked closely with Imagineer Mary Blair on the original it’s a small world attraction.

The Imagineering back story for the Emporium is that it started in what is now the center of the building as shown by the early gas lighting chandelier fixture and the wall support posts. It expanded to Center Street, the first street in the city as shown by its bricks rather than paving. In reality, those bricks were salvaged from a turn-of-the-century building being torn down in Orlando when Walt Disney World was being built.

Then the store expanded toward the train station, which explains the more ornate exterior in that direction, as well as the electric lighting fixtures. This made the Emporium the largest store in the Magic Kingdom. During the Victorian era, the term “Emporium” was used to describe a large retail store that offered a vast selection of commodities and goods.

“The storyline is that the proprietor of the Emporium has continued to have such huge success that he wanted to expand his shop, but with no where left to expand, he made arrangements with the city to purchase part of Center Street,” stated Rhonda Counts, Magic Kingdom art director for Walt Disney Imagineering.

“The original Emporium was built in the 1800s and the expansion is being built in the early 1900s so you’re using an Edwardian style that was used in that day that is less ornate than Victorian with lighter colored wood and pastels.”

The expansion was controversial because it destroyed West Center Street. The purpose of Center Street was to “break up” Main Street so guests did not feel it was just one long block of buildings but a city. In addition, West Center Street’s narrow alley-like appearance curved at the end to give the impression that the road and the city itself continued out of sight.

When the new structure was built it was inset into the street, something that would not have been done at the time. It would have been flush with the street to attract traffic. The new addition sold the exact same goods that could be purchased in the Emporium and elsewhere on Walt Disney World property and were not unique to the location.

However, from a business standpoint, the new building was able to monetize previously unused square footage and to connect all the buildings to provide inside access down the entire street for guests.

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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 new books Vault of Walt: Volume 10: Final Edition  Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.

 

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