Report: Disney Store Times Square (NYC) Soft Opening and Merchandise; D23 Event with Jodi Benson


Early yesterday morning, a small group of Disney D23 members were invited to visit the all new Disney Store Times Square before it opened its doors to the public for a private shopping experience and in-store continental breakfast. With the store operating in soft mode since last Thursday, Disney Store President Jim Fielding was on-hand to celebrate with the Disney D23 members as was Jodi Benson, the voice of The Little Mermaid’s Ariel and Toy Story 3‘s Barbie.

With check-in for the event commencing at 7:30 am sharp, guests were ushered into the lower level of the store which features a combination of New York City-themed merchandise, exclusive to the Disney Store Times Square location, as well as seasonal Disney Store merchandise and that aimed towards an older demographic, but more on that later. At the event’s official start time of 8 am, guests were invited to journey upstairs to the more ‘traditional’ ‘Imagination Park’ concept store which is where Fielding addressed the crowd from the store’s gazebo which serves as the 350 square foot Disney Store Theater.

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Fielding talked about the store’s genesis in August of 2008 and how when he first saw the location at 1540 Broadway, former home to the world’s largest Virgin Megastore, he knew he had to have the space. According to Fielding, it took nearly a year for Disney Store to obtain the lease for the store because the space was in such high demand. He spoke of the nearly 250 cast members, some of which had returned to the company, it took to conduct interviews, hire and train new staff for the store which maintains 24 hour shifts to keep the store in tip-top shape. Although the store is open until Midnight most days, Fielding noted that they have had to keep running the store to 1 am due to large groups of guests still remaining inside. He mentioned that by year-end, they will have opened 19 of the new concept stores with an expected 30 – 40 in 2011, including two in Canada (but declined to identify where specifically). Surprisingly, the most profitable store worldwide is the Paris on the Champs-Élysées store according to Fielding, but he joked that the Times Square store calls Paris daily to make sure they’re beating them.

Of course Fielding spoke to the store itself, which consists of two floors, although the Virgin Megastore it partially replaced was four. He explained that the mezzanine from the former store was removed, resulting in a longer escalator ride and that half of the fourth floor, which houses the store’s internal offices, was also removed, allowing the store to have its high ceilings. About 80% of the merchandise found on the lower floor, according to Fielding, is unique to Disney Store Times Square while the upstairs is what he referred to as ‘”Imagination Park” on steroids.’ The ‘Imagination Park’ portion at Disney Store Times Square is roughly twice the size of the norm so far, all told easily making it the largest Disney Store in North America. The store is so large in fact that its Disney Princess castle is 20 feet tall and features not one, but two of the magic mirrors.

After tackling a brief Q&A session in which Fielding responded to questions along the lines of  the current location of the Mickey and Minnie Mouse figures that once hung over the entrance to the former World of Disney store (they’re in storage at Walt Disney Imagineeering as the World of Disney was operated by Disney Parks and Resorts, not Disney Consumer Products as Disney Store is), he introduced Jodi Benson to the attending crowd.

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Benson spoke of her affinity for Disney Store and how when she lived in Los Angeles, it would be the place to go for her and her family and that she’s happy to see Disney Store returning to Manhattan. She was then presented with the limited edition print of Ariel by Fielding and shortly thereafter signed the print (or D23 COA) for those who had purchased it. The print on canvas was limited to an edition size of 100 for the event along with just 10 prints each of Snow White, Tiana, Cinderella and Belle.

D23 members were then left to their own vices – namely shopping – for the remainder of the event and day and were each offered a 20% discount off purchases made that day. At 9 am, the store officially opened, with the daily ‘Unlock the Imagination’ ceremony taking place upstairs where a child was selected to symbolically turn a large Disney-themed key into a lock to begin the day of sales. As a reward, the child was presented with a miniature version of the key to commemorate the event. Meanwhile, the pseudo-skyline that borders the Imagination Park model came to life with virtual fireworks and colored LED uplighting and even a brief appearance by a flying Dumbo.

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One of the highlights of the event wasn’t about the Disney Store itself, however, but one of its many dedicated cast members. Cast member Keith Lapinig had created his own custom 9″ Disney Store vinylmation in honor of the day’s festivities and was obtaining signatures from the store’s opening management team. As it turns out, Keith is an amazing artist and counts custom vinylmations as one of his talents. Although the Disney Store vinylmation project was just starting when I found him, he promised the final result would be posted on his website where you can find samples of his previous work including a gallery of his custom vinylmation which is definitely worth the look.

As to the store itself, I won’t spend a lot of time exploring the ‘Imagination Park’ model and its features as you can find all this and more in our extensive coverage of the first of its kind, the Disney Store at the Shops at Montebello in Montebello, California. Instead, I’ll spend more time exploring the lower level and what makes the ‘Imagination Park’ model at Disney Store Times Square unique.

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The first thing you’ll find as you enter the store is a lot of New York City-branded merchandise, all of which is exclusive to the store. As a point of interest, the NYC-branded merchandise found at the World of Disney store wasn’t entirely exclusive to the store as a lot of it was also sold at Youse Guys Moichendise found on the Streets of New York in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Here, while most of the concepts are familiar, such as the ‘I (Mickey) New York,’ they are all Disney Store merchandise as opposed to theme park merchandise. Like its World of Disney predecessor, Disney Store Times Square also hosts a very healthy selection of Disney Theatrical merchandise, items you would normally only be able to purchase if you attended The Lion King and Mary Poppins on Broadway.

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Aside from the NYC, ‘I (Mickey)’ NY’ and Minnie-Mouse-as-The-Statue-of-Liberty merchandise, there is a large Disney vinylmation display which features the standard vinylmation figures for sale as well as some exclusive to the Disney Store Times Square location, such as Minnie-Mouse-as-The-Statue-of-Liberty. The store has also had quite a bit of expected trouble keeping its first limited edition (1540 pieces) 9″ collectible in stock. Atop the display is a 5′ tall vinylmation figure, that of Jim Valeri’s NYC-exclusive ‘Hey, Taxi,’ but Valeri did not paint the centerpiece here — that honor went to Disney Fine Artist and 5′ vinylmation artisan Noah.

Also amongst the Disney Store Times Square exclusives is a healthy assortment of Disney trading pins including a limited edition (1540 pieces) set of Mickey Mouse and Friends visiting attractions throughout Central Park. As it was operated by Disney Parks and Resorts, pins and pin trading events were an integral part of the World of Disney store. When asked about whether Disney Store would honor that tradition during the Q&A, Fielding noted that pins will have a presence in the store and that pin trading events are a possibility, but that Disney Store tends to keep collectibles and art to more of experience.

Along with edible treats and seasonal merchandise and all of the above, the merchandise on the lower level is rounded out by items from niche collections such as Bloc28 and Disney Couture.

On the upper level, as I mentioned, is a whole other experience — that of the ‘Imagination Park’ model concept. The latest in a string of new Disney Stores, the Disney Store Times Square carries on the experience in a big way. Greeted by a wall of merchandise featuring Disney’s Tangled, guests will also sections dedicated to various Disney properties such as TRON: Legacy, Toy Story 3, ‘Phineas and Ferb’ and even a Marvel section (a first of its kind for Disney Store) which features items from Sideshow Collectibles. Disney Princesses commandeer about a quarter of the store which includes a 20-foot tall Disney Princess Castle facade, two magic mirrors and one amazing, enormous chandelier.

All of this leads up to the grand opening of the store which takes place this Tuesday morning, November 9, 2011 at 9 am. In a spectacle befitting of both New York City and Disney Store’s triumphant return, we hear Disney will be taking over the streets in front of the store to present a cavalcade of Disney characters and special guests including Disney family members Anika Noni  Rose, Melissa Joan Hart and Jordin Sparks amongst others. In fact, we hear the event is so important to The Walt Disney Company that CEO Robert Iger may also be making an appearance as well as a spectacular appearance by Tinker Bell herself. The initial parade and festivities will be open to the public, but will be followed by a private VIP reception inside the store which includes a performance by Jordin Sparks singing her rendition of the theme to Beauty and the Beast. The store’s doors will open to the public at 1 pm and the first guests will receive free Mickey Mouse ears along with bragging rights.

Below are our photo galleries of the Disney D23 event and of the Disney Store Times Square itself. As always, please click on each thumbnail to view it in its larger form.

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All photos © Stitch Kingdom. All rights reserved. Video courtesy of Disney Store.

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