What I learned working at the Disney Store

What I learned working at the Disney Store

When I was at college in Boston in the mid-90s, I worked part time at the Disney Store in Faneuil Hall Marketplace. At the time it was New England’s largest Disney Store, but now it’s not even open any more: apparently people prefer to buy their plush in enclosed suburban malls rather than open-air urban malls.

Why did I work there? Because the 15-30 minutes per day of wacky dorm shenanigans weren’t enough to make up for the 23.5 to 23.75 hours a day of people lying around and complaining about how much school specifically, and their lives generally, sucked. So I escaped to a happy land that, happily, paid me money to hang out there. Here are ten things I learned in my years working for the Mouse.

1. Though I was in it for the money, a lot of people who work at the Disney Store would actually pay to do their jobs. A surprisingly (or should that be unsurprisingly?) large number of people who work for the Walt Disney Company are, in doing so, living a lifelong personal dream. Whether or not it’s a dream that you share, and whether or not you’re a little weirded out by it, there’s something to be said for being surrounded by people who love their job that much. They ran Disney trivia contests in the break room, just for fun. They would use their vacation time from the Disney Store to make Mecca-like pilgrimages to Disney World.

2. The Disney Store makes people happy. Except for the guys who were dragged into the store by their girlfriends, just about everyone who walked through those doors started smiling almost immediately. When we would open the store and unlock the doors, there would routinely be crowds waiting to enter. A Disney Store is a little piece of Disneyland, and even that little piece is enough to help people forget about their less-than-idyllic lives outside the Magic Kingdom. Even the kids at the Disney Store were happy — I was always surprised at how little whining I heard. They just thought it was super-cool to be at the Disney Store instead of at the Orvis store waiting for their dad to finish trying on fly-fishing vests.

3. If you are a guy working at a Disney Store, everyone will assume you are gay. On his way out, one bro yelled over his shoulder at me, “Nice being a homo?” I like to think that was a come-on that he disguised as a taunt so as not to out himself to his girlfriend.

4. Over time, working at the Disney Store warps your sense of reality. You’re standing there, bored, in the men’s clothing department (because they usually didn’t let guys who weren’t really, really flaming work in any department besides men’s clothing), and you start thinking, “Okay, if I had to wear one of these shirts, which one would I wear?” Then you choose the one that’s most tolerable, and like the least unattractive person at a party, it becomes beautiful and irresistible. It was this phenomenon, coupled with implicit peer pressure from my coworkers—who would routinely spend large proportions of their wages on Disney Store merchandise—that led me to own, for a brief period, an embroidered long-sleeve 101 Dalmatians shirt. In retrospect, I’m just glad I got out of there before I bought a $300 Goofy letter jacket.

5. At the Disney Store, workers were called “cast members,” and meetings were called “cast meetings.” (The back room is referred to as “back stage,” and smells intensely of PVC plastic.) Cast meetings took place early on Sunday mornings, because that was the only time the store wasn’t open. My fellow cast members would arrive in high spirits, and the cast meetings would have themes related to upcoming movies, new merchandise lines, or seasonal holidays. For one Halloween cast meeting, I attempted to build an ice cube costume out of translucent trash bags and coat hangers; everyone assumed I was a condom.

6. The cast-member merchandise discount is a highly prized benefit of a job at the Disney Store, and much is made of how you’re not supposed to abuse it by buying things for friends and family members. When I resigned my position, my manager destroyed my Disney photo ID right there in front of me. As a member of the Disney family, I also received a letter each year from CEO Michael Eisner, thanking me for my service and enclosing a pair of passes to Disney World. Thus it was that for spring break, my friends and I went to Disney World. We brought bottom-shelf vodka and juice mixers in approximately equal proportion, and one day I found myself wandering suburban Orlando in the rain, lost, looking for food.

7. Stuff at the Disney Store is expensive, but it’s well-made. By the end of my time at the Disney Store, I found myself noticing and shaking my head at poorly-made licensed products from non-Disney retailers.

8. If you break something at the Disney Store and it looks like it was an accident, you don’t have to pay for it. My first day on the job, a guy dropped a giant snow globe. I brought a manager, who just sent him off and asked me to clean it up. I’m not sure who was more delighted and surprised, me or the guy.

9. Disney Stores sell souvenir animation cels that might be mistaken for actual drawings used in the making of Disney movies. For the most part, they are not: they are reproductions of those original cels, published in limited editions. Animation cels can cost thousands of dollars, making them the biggest-ticket items in the average Disney Store. If you can sell cels, you are a Disney ninja.

10. Song of the South? You don’t talk about it.

And one thing I learned after I quit working at the Disney Store: in contradiction to the answer I’d been giving to tourists’ most commonly-asked question for three years, the Union Oyster House is located at the southeast corner of Faneuil Hall Marketplace—not the northwest corner. Oops.

Jay Gabler invites you to read his Disney Store performance evaluation