It's a far piece from Anaheim and even farther from Orlando, but the Magic Kingdom - Utah branch - has come to Salt Lake City with the opening of The Disney Store at Crossroads Plaza downtown.
The new 3,400-square-foot store is one of 39 devoted exclusively to Disney merchandise that have opened across the country this year for a total of 79 in 33 states. The first was launched three years ago in Glendale, Calif., not far from The Walt Disney Co.'s headquarters in Burbank.There's no shortage of stores selling Disney toys and products, of course, but they don't do it like this. If you can walk past The Disney Store without your feet carrying you inside - like Pinocchio lured to Pleasure Island - you must have misspent your childhood.
The company calls it "retail as entertainment" with the store as the stage. First there are the windows, alive with (presumably) life-size Mickeys and Goofys and Donalds. Once inside there is a huge video screen where Dumbo's mother rocks him from her cage, Ariel does battle with the wicked Sea Witch and Peter teaches Wendy, John and Michael the joys of flight.
There's "Plush Mountain," a pile of fuzzy Uncle Scrooges, Roger Rabbits and Huey, Dewey and Louies large enough to satisfy the cuddling capacities of the most devoted fan. Then there are the shelves groaning with every conceivable kind of product to which a pair of large black ears or webbed yellow feet can be attached.
Price? You name it. Everything from $1 pencil huggers to $3,000 porcelain figurines. Toys, games, music, books, watches, apparel, videos - even animation cells used in Bambi, Cinderella and other Disney classics are available.
But all of the characters at The Disney Store aren't found in cartoons. The 25 employees - excuse me, Cast Members - are dressed in collegiate attire, and customers - oops, I mean Guests - are treated in the manner made famous by the Disney organization . . . which is to say very well indeed.
The high level of training that employees of the Disney theme parks undergo is well-known, and Disney Store staff go through a similar program.
"It's far more effort than any sane retailer would devote," joked Disney spokesman Chuck Champlin of the training program. "But more than just units standing alone, the stores are an extension of the Disney Company, itself. When someone comes in, we want them to feel they are getting a piece of the fun they would have at a Disney theme park."
Store managers spend two weeks at corporate headquarters for their training; employees go through a less comprehensive course in "Disney Traditions" which, Champlin says, "Brings them in touch with the whole Disney experience . . . (and) covers all the commitments to family, and what it will take to keep the commitment to Disney excellence."
Walt Disney Co. has three basic areas of business, the movie and television studios, the theme parks and Disney Consumer Products of which Disney Specialty Retail is a division. It includes the stores, merchandise licensing, publications, records, audio entertainment and computer software and the Childcraft mail order catalog operation.
Champlin said Disney started slowly with the stores to make sure the concept would find a niche in the market. They needn't have worried. "They have been extremely successful," he said, adding that the store recently opened in London has outdone its U.S. counterparts.
On average, the Disney Stores sell about three times the dollar volume per square foot as the average retailer, said Champlin, $200 per square foot vs. $600. Some 100 Disney Stores will be open by mid-1991.
The success of the stores prompted Disney to have a go at the restaurant business. The first, and so far only, Mickey's Kitchen, was the result. It opened in April in Montclair, Calif., offering burgers, pizza and, yes, french fries shaped like Disney characters. They don't have a Mickey's Kitchen planned for Salt Lake City yet but "it's possible" for the future, said Champlin.
Merchandise sold in the stores draws from the enormous pool of licensed manfacturers and wholesalers who serve general retailers - a $2.5 billion annual business - but there are also items that are exclusive to the Disney Store, said Champlin.
He said the company wants the Disney Store to be a center of Disney activity in the community. The Crossroads store veatures a Video Newsstand where guests can collect literature about other Disney entertainment, such as news about network or The Disney Channel programming, resort brochures and special offers. A video Laserdisk presents scenes from the newest attractions at Disneyland, Walt Disney World and, soon, Euro Disneyland. Disney Dollars, gift certificates and tickets for the parks are also available at the store.