OpEd: Disney Should Create New Shopping, Dining, and Entertainment Options, Not Residential Communities

Disney New Communities

When news of Disney’s upcoming Storyliving community concept broke earlier this year, fan reactions were mixed. While some were interested in the new concept of offering Disney’s top-notch level of theming and design along with amenities and recreational offerings in new locations around the country, other fans were quick to assume the pricing would be out of their budget and even more pointed out that Disney’s Golden Oak already exists as a Disney-exclusive residential community near Walt Disney World.

The idea of a residential community may appeal to Disney Fanatics as it could be the closest project to date to Walt Disney’s original concept for EPCOT, but there may be a better way to spread some Disney magic to destinations across the U.S. Instead of constructing new sets of high-end suburbs, Disney should create new shopping, dining, and entertainment districts in the style of Disney Springs or Downtown Disney, each with their own unique themes.

Neighborhood shopping, dining, and entertainment districts would appeal to more Disney fans

Disney Springs

Credit: Brittany DiCologero / Disney Fanatic

The concept of Disney’s Storyliving communities, and Golden Oak, is interesting to a lot of Disney fans but realistically speaking totally out of reach for most. Something more comparable to Disney Springs, however, could appeal to Disney fans with a wider variety of budgets.

Many of the attractions and offerings at Disney Springs could easily be replicated in towns across America, and outside of big cities, such a complex that includes shopping, dining, and entertainment does not exist in much of the country anyway. Adding this type of concept to areas away from cities could also increase jobs and broaden the appeal for out-of-town visitors to want to visit some off-the-beaten-path locations.

And, it would not have to follow the exact same design as Downtown Disney or Disney Springs. Much like the Storyliving communities, districts under this concept could have their own individual themes with stories inspired by the area. With an accessible (and free) parking structure, live entertainment, shops (Disney and others) and some delicious dining options including Disney-operated and designed restaurants, who wouldn’t want something comparable to Disney Springs in their own backyard?

Nearly all Disney Stores are closed – This could bring them back

Credit: Disney

Lots of Disney fans were devastated when the majority of Disney Stores closed for good last year. But, imagine if you could shop at the World of Disney somewhere sort of close to home? Even if a World of Disney Store isn’t deemed a great fit to be replicated all over the country, think of the other Disney-themed stores at Disney Springs– Ever After Jewelry Co., for instance, the Dress Shop, Disney Style…These stores are all original concepts created for Disney Springs. It would be interesting to see what kinds of Disney stores Imagineers would create with newly themed districts popping up around the country.

Now this is wishful thinking for sure, because we did not see too much of this when we did have more local Disney Stores, but the company could use adding more stores as a way to leverage the parks’ reselling problem. When new (and sometimes limited edition, but sometimes not) merchandise arrives at Disney parks, resellers are often quick to scoop it up.

While the practice of reselling like this is frustrating as it prevents Guests in the parks from purchasing the items and it marks them up to extraordinary amounts for people hoping to order them from home, perhaps offering these items at more locations around the country would remedy the situation. If a “Disney Parks” store existed in multiple locations, people would have a better shot of buying those items, and the profits would go back to Disney rather than into a reseller’s pocket.

Didn’t Disney try this with DisneyQuest in Chicago? And didn’t it fail?

Disney Quest

Sort of. DisneyQuest, the company’s indoor interactive theme park/arcade did expand to Chicago at one point in 1999, and plans were in the work to introduce the concept at different cities around the world, however, the Chicago location (and the Disney Springs location) both ended up closing.

While there are numerous reasons why the DisneyQuest concept did not take off like Disney hoped that it would, there are two major reasons why it failed that show how this new district concept could still be done successfully. One is that DisneyQuest opened in a major city. There is no shortage of things to do in Chicago, for both locals and tourists. Much like the Storyliving concept that is not located right in an already established downtown, a new shopping, dining, and entertainment complex would be better suited for an area where there is an unmet need for such a thing.

DisneyQuest also carried with it the burden of becoming technologically outdated quicker than updates could have been made. Rather than have this type of attraction that limits itself to expensive and ever-changing technology, my proposed district could have tried and true entertainment that we know works. Take Disney Springs for instance, DisneyQuest may not have lasted, but the AMC Movie Theater, Splitsville Bowling, Characters in Flight hot air balloon experience, Boathouse Amphicars, and Cirque du Soleil have been there for years.

If all of these types of attractions were to open up in an underutilized area of the country, where residents are in need of more ways to have fun, the Disney Springs model seems to prove that it would be a success. DisneyQuest ultimately may have been overcomplicating the idea of an entertainment attraction, whereas a bowling alley and movie theater surrounded by Disney shops, restaurants, Cast Members, and theming are timeless experiences that Guests would want to revisit.

What about locals?

Post 21, Downtown Disney

Credit: Disney

In the past when Disney has tried to venture outside of the typical areas where parks and resorts are currently located, the company has been met with some disgruntled locals. Therefore, this concept would have to be responsive to criticism and respectful of local customs, while also including neighboring communities for it to work well.

The best way to include locals and their community would be to include their businesses at the complex. Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort has done this with the Post 21 kiosk that recently opened. Post 21 is a small business, and the first Black-owned business to open at the Disneyland Resort. While it might make sense to include some larger chain stores, especially ones that offer Disney lines and collections (like Vera Bradley, Coach, and Uniqlo to name a few), it would be nice to see locally-owned small businesses in the mix, too.

Disney could also grant licenses to the local businesses to design products using their characters (think of Cakeworthy, while not “small” they are an outside company who is able to make licensed Disney designs.) Fans who do not live near the theme parks would certainly enjoy being able to shop for locally made, perhaps handcrafted, Disney items that could not be found anywhere else.

I know I’m not alone in my lack of excitement over Disney Storyliving, and I also know I am not the only New Englander who will plan a trip to New York City just to go to what is now the closest Disney Store to me. Fans all over the country would surely appreciate the chance to get some extra Disney magic at home, and while it may be unlikely, I would love to see this become a reality!

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a New England-based writer focused on the history of the Walt Disney World Resort. She is the author of "Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Reality of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort," and "Brittany Earns Her Ears."

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