Northeastern Disney fans, rejoice! There’s a new presence in Times Square, and it’s Mickey Mouse! As we previously reported, last week brought the return of a Disney store to New York City. Operated by the Disney Store (unlike the World of Disney store on 5th Avenue that closed down last year), this store takes the Disney Store’s new “Imagination Park” concept to a whole new level.
The experience of visiting the Times Square Disney Store doesn’t begin inside the store, but rather with it’s elaborate exterior. Featuring a facade made up of smaller video screens below a giant video screen that projects Disney videos, animations, and pictures to the crowds of Times Square, the exterior is perhaps as exciting as the inside of the store, as it entices you to come in and fits in perfectly with the energy and bright lights of Times Square.
Upon entering, you find yourself on the lower level of the two-level store, which primarily features exclusive merchandise for the Times Square store. There is a large display of various NYC-themed Disney merchandise, including plushes, apparel, snowglobes, and numerous other products.
Vinylmation collectors are particularly in luck, as the store features a large Vinylmation display that, in addition to some regular Vinylmation series, offers four different NYC Vinylmations exclusive to the store. However, pin collectors shouldn’t feel left out–there’s a nice variety of exclusive pins as well.
Apart from the NYC merchandise, the lower level features an assortment of other general Disney merchandise. There’s a nice variety of (particularly women’s) apparel, plushes, and with the holidays coming up, there’s a large display of both Christmas-themed items and ornaments and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” merchandise. In addition, merchandise from Disney’s two current Broadway shows, “Mary Poppins” and “The Lion King” is sold at the store as well.
Making your way up the store’s very tall elevator, you arrive at the second floor, which is a much grander version of Disney Store’s new “Imagination Park” concept. The floor features various areas that each revolve around a different Disney movie or theme. There is an area for Tangled merchandise, Toy Story merchandise, the Marvel characters, and Phineas and Ferb, among others. For fans of the movie “Cars,” there is a special RideMakerz area that allows children to create their own custom cars.
Of course, there’s a large amount of space designated for the Disney princesses as well, which is marked by the store’s very own 20-foot-high castle. Apart from the wide variety of princess-themed merchandise, children are sure to delight in the store’s “magic mirror,” which magically comes to life for children with the wave of a wand.
Rounding out the store’s upper level is the store’s “Imagination Theater,” which allows guests to choose which Disney clips and videos they’d like to see played on the theater’s 12-foot screen. Colorful animations are projected onto lucite trees around the store, and a Disneyfied New York skyline surrounds the level. While most of the merchandise on this level is geared toward children, both adults and children are sure to enjoy the store’s magical atmosphere.
While the store had its official grand opening on Tuesday, it opened to the public on Thursday, November 4. During this “soft opening” period, I was lucky enough to attend a special preview of the store for D23 members on Sunday. We were welcomed into the store bright and early at 7:30 AM, excited for what was in store. After getting a chance to explore the lower level of the store, we were able to make our way upstairs, where we were treated to a continental breakfast before gathering around for the highlight of the morning, as Disney Store President Jim Fielding addressed the group.
Fielding spoke briefly about the design of the store and how it was transformed from the Virgin Megastore into this new space. He explained how this store is the largest Disney Store in North America and even has cast members working there in 24-hour shifts to ensure that everything is in the best possible shape. For those of you who can’t make it to Times Square, Fielding explained that 19 of the new concept Disney Stores will have opened by the end of the year, with an expected 30-40 to arrive in 2011, including two in Canada. A Q&A session followed, and he answered such questions as why there was no theme park merchandise in the store (Answer: Fielding believes the theme park experience should be kept separate from the Disney Store experience.). And for all of my fellow Muppet fans, while there isn’t very much Muppet merchandise there right now, he explained that when their new movie approaches, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Kermit and his friends in the store.
Finally, Jim Fielding introduced the special guest of the day: the voice of The Little Mermaid herself, Jodi Benson! Benson spoke briefly about her affinity for the Disney Store and expressed her happiness at seeing it return to Manhattan before being presented with a limited-edition print of Ariel that was available for the D23 event. For those who had purchased the print (of which only 100 were available), she was on hand to sign the prints and greet those guests. After the presentation was over, we were free to continue shopping and explore the store. I found it to be a very well-done and memorable event, and hope to see more special events for Disney fans at the store in the future! It was especially nice to see Fielding so happy to connect with us fans, and he even recognized people from Twitter (where he can found tweeting from @DisneyStorePrez).
The excitement for the store continued on Tuesday, as Disney characters, celebrities, and fans alike took to the middle of Times Square to celebrate the store’s grand opening. Greg Triggs and Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts co-hosted the grand opening ceremony, which took place across from the store in Times Square.
The ceremony began with some familiar faces arriving to the scene, as popular Disney characters such as Cinderella, Belle, Tiana, Phineas and Ferb, and Tangled’s Rapunzel and Flynn Rider paraded through Times Square and took their places on stage. Speeches by Disney CEO Bob Iger and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg followed, as each of them addressed the crowd to express their support of the new store. Finally, Mickey and Minnie took the stage and welcomed Aden Schwartz, a contest winner who was given the honor of “unlocking Imagination” to officially open the store.
The characters remained onstage after the speeches ended while music from Epcot’s “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth” filled Times Square, making for a truly magical morning. Further opening celebrations followed inside the store for VIPs, which included a performance by Jordin Sparks and the appearance of such celebrities as Anika Noni Rose, Melissa Joan Hart, and Brooke Shields. The store then officially opened to the public, allowing Disney fans, tourists, and New Yorkers alike to enjoy some Disney magic as part of their day in NYC once again. If you’re in NYC, definitely don’t pass up a chance to go check it out!
The Times Square Disney Store is located at 1540 Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets, and is open daily from 9 AM-midnight.
Jim Fielding/Jodi Benson Photo copyright Disney