Samland: Thoughts on Starbucks on Main Street at Disneyland

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Features, Samland

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Published on October 03, 2013 at 1:00 am with 22 Comments

It seems that everybody has an opinion on the inclusion of a Starbucks on Main Street at Disneyland. I went to the park this week and was inspired to toss my two cents into the wishing well.

First a disclaimer. I don’t drink coffee. Never liked the stuff. Give me a Diet Coke in the morning and I am a happy guy. Therefore, I cannot comment on whether the coffee is a step up or down from what was served before. I did like the idea that you could get refills all day at the old Market House. I suspect that Starbucks is not so generous.

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Walt Disney’s version of Disneyland was meant to contain large set pieces that represented the various movie and television genres of the day. He invited his guests to become the characters and to play along. That was part of the magic of Disneyland and it was the start the theme park industry. His Imagineers created spaces that people wanted to be, regardless of whether they were going on rides.

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It was not only an aesthetic consideration, it was financial as well. At the time, you could buy a general admission ticket, buy tickets for individual attractions, buy souvenirs, and food. For a broad pleasurable experience which would also generate a lot of money, Walt wanted to see some folks standing in lines, a lot of people eating, and the rest milling about, hopefully in the shops. A lot of people would find it fun just to sit around. That is why many older Disneyland fans from Southern California seem to have this weird connection to the park. It was a park.

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What does this have to do with Starbucks? I believe that the coffee house is beautifully designed and decorated. It is function over form, which was the priority. It is not really themed but it is an attractive retail space using an overlay of historic items designed to maximize revenues. Just like your local Cracker Barrel.

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The original Market House was built around the heart of the Main Street USA community – the pot belly stove. Want to have a relaxed chat with a neighbor? Play checkers. Need more local news? Pick up the party line phone. The Market House was like the Upjohn Pharmacy across the street. They were less stores and more like museums. Their real function was supposed to help to reinforce the illusion that you were some place from another time.

Am I overthinking this? Maybe. But architect Charles Moore, a fan of Disneyland when most professionals held the park in contempt, said, “Place is the projection of the image of civilization onto the environment.” What may be a vacant lot to some can be a holy space to others.

With the rise of Paul Pressler and his successors, the thinking about space has changed and everything is judged by how much money can be made per square foot. After all, management schools teach us that you can only manage what you can measure. Maximizing square footage is the thinking of a shopping mall manager. Pressler may be long gone but his approach continues to drive the park’s design to this very day. If there are exceptions please highlight them in the comments.

I applaud the Imagineers for retaining three signature elements; the pot belly stove, the impromptu checker board game on a barrel, and the party line phones. The stove has been placed in a new space called the Book Rest. Nice space. The stove is no longer the center of attention. It is tucked oddly in a dark corner. The queue for coffee is the new focus. The history geek in me notes that Walt personally made miniature versions of pot belly stoves and sold them.

I typed this article while sitting on a nice little bench at a table toward the back of the Book Rest. I think it is supposed to be a bookstore (Mr. Peavidy, Bookseller) but I am not sure. It feels like a library. It is nicely decorated with period books and artifacts. I think it may turn out to be a a great “Hey I will meet you at…” spot.

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Instead of the checkers board near the stove, they have been separated. The protective little railing that surrounded the stove and game board is long gone. That sense of security while playing a game is gone. But who plays checkers, right?

Since everything at WDI is about story, I am sure that there is a very eloquent back story that supports what the guests now see. Just like the Carnation Cafe has nothing to do with the ice cream company and has to do with a guy’s wife. I look forward to the Disney Parks blog revealing that story or if somebody with a press release can send it my way, I will highlight it in a future column.

I could get really picky. Just look at the roof. The air conditioning vents are pretending to be structural beams but it is obvious that this is a modern air conditioning system covered by a fake wood veneer. Next time you are at the park look up at the ceilings of the older stores and you will see what I mean.

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Don’t get me wrong. Disney and Starbucks are going to make a lot of money. Coffee fans have a real alternative (I know how crazy some of you get before your first cup). It is hard to imagine how they could accomplish the goal of moving hundreds of people through a space while retaining any sense of charm. Today’s Disneyland is not Walt’s park. But look for me typing away at the Book Rest the next time you visit….

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About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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  • ScottOlsen

    “David Koenig relates in Realityland: “Resort-wide, the [Merchandise] department was led by Jack Olsen….[who] constantly preached that his stores were not factories. He wanted them operated first and foremost as part of the show, rather than designed and operated to maximize profit. Even though souvenirs imprinted with Mickey Mouse and other characters were the best selling merchandise in the park, none were sold in Adventureland, Frontierland, or Liberty Square. Everything had to be themed to the period.”

    Pretty much sums up the difference between Disney then and now.

  • JCSkipr79

    ^^ And now Uni. has stolen this playbook and WDI/TDA/TDO have NO IDEA how to get it back………………..

    • Marko50

      You’re assuming TDA/TDO have a desire to get it back.

  • http://www.storiesfromadventureland.com PoopedPirate

    This is a spot-on assessment. I’m sure Sam could say similar things about the Court of Angels – the conflict between unique storytelling and the need for revenue generation per square foot.

    I think that coffee, and our culture of coffee today is much different and more important to folks than it was in 1955. It’s a bigger part of people’s lives. It’s hard to imagine someone holding a cup of coffee and walking around Disneyland back when I was a kid in the 60′s.

    What will come back in the results from the wandering survey takers tapping away on their tablets?

    “It’s much better coffee.”
    “It’s very pretty.”
    Propensity to return = High
    Crowd Management = Very Good to Excellent
    Revenue per square ft. = increased by 73%

    Mission accomplished.

  • fnord

    It’s my opinion that with all the thrill rides with height limits, Disneyland no longer
    has the ability to make kids feel grown up, and with the rodeo drive makeover of main
    street, you no longer really feel transported back in time as the set up to the experience
    of disneyland, so adults don’t really feel like kids anymore, which as an adult was the thing
    I cherished most about the park. Until my last visit.

  • JiminyCricketFan

    I know people love their coffee, but somehow I feel like something has been lost in the new Starbucks. When we look at how Disneyland was designed from the past we can compare it to the present. I cannot help but feel that The experience of Disneyland is diminished. When I was a child and I explored the market house for the first time, my first impression was how small everything was. Just a few seats, just one checkerboard, it was a reflection of time in America when things were small. But today we have Costco, and we have Home Depot, and things are HUGE. Children don’t experience the small anymore in a retail space. But it wasn’t always that way. But now Disneyland is simply teaching that the huge was always there, even at the turn of the last century.

  • Algernon

    I don’t drink coffee so I’ll probably never go in there. And from the outside, it looks okay. But I do agree that the Disneyland experience is rapidly diminishing, as they slowly chop away at it. Eventually, it will stop being Disneyland and start being someplace else. It’s already halfway there. Hopefully, somebody with the computer skills will create virtual reality past versions of Disneyland for the Occulus Rift VR headset coming out next year, and I can once again return to the “real” Disneyland, and “ride” the Peoplemover, Skyway, and the old Subs.

  • disneyfan11

    Sam, I liked when you said, “What does this have to do with Starbucks? I believe that the coffee house is beautifully designed and decorated. It is function over form, which was the priority. It is not really themed but it is an attractive retail space using an overlay of historic items designed to maximize revenues. Just like your local Cracker Barrel.”

    I really try to put myself in the shoes of those who are running and operating the park on a daily basis. What is the ultimate goal? From what I have been observing, it is to create as much revenue flow as possible. I think it was Dusty who said it perfectly in his last post, about how horrible the coffee has been for last 50+ years. Now you have a widely well known brand of coffee. With this, you NEED as much space as humanly possible to get guests through the lines. If you kept the market house the way it was, the lines would be out the door, curled around main street.

  • Klutch

    I do drink coffee. I really like it. But I didn’t like Nescafe. (Blech!)

    I think the addition of Starbucks in Disneyland is great. McDonald’s? No. Starbucks? Yes. What’s the difference? Starbucks sells high quality coffee and specialty drinks at high prices. It’s a coffee boutique. And boutiques belong at Disneyland. McDonald’s sells low quality food at very low prices. It’s not a boutique. McDonald’s did not belong at Disneyland.

    I think we sometimes forget that while Disneyland was revolutionary in theming and environment when it opened, it was also an amazing example of American capitalism. Us Americans are a strange lot. We love our capitalism, but we loath it at the same time. When something gets big and sucessful, like Starbuck’s, we start to dislike it no matter how good their products are. We tend to favor the underdog.

    Starbucks started out as a small coffee shop that speicalized in high quality coffee with very good service. At first, everyone loved it. If it was still a small company, traditionists would likely welcome it to Disneyland. Now that Starbucks is ubiquitous, traditionalists don’t want to see it at Disneyland.

    I’m old enough remember Disneyland back in the early 1970s. It was full of big corporations. They sponsored attractions and had stores. I remember seeing Goodyear, AT&T, Carnation, Kodak and many more. But now Starbucks is a big corporation so we don’t want to see it in Disneyland? I don’t get it. But I will get some coffee at the Disneyland Starbucks next time I visit. And I’m hoping that massive queue area keeps the wait times short.

  • bayouguy

    It’s not Paul Pressler’s Disneyland either.

  • heysi

    And the complaining continues…..

    Just listen to yourselves for a minute. “The Court of Angels is my private little treasure to enjoy”, “The smallness of the Market House with its bad coffee is gone”, “Where is the exclusive Oswald merchandise me and my 3 friends need to collect?”, “Why can’t they replace Hollywoodland with 14 E-ticket rides so I can feel like my AP that I use every weekend is justified for its price?”. If Walt was alive today, he would probably shoot his computer everytime he had to move a popcorn cart for all the complaining some of you people do. Keep in mind Walt told us from day 1 that he intended to constantly change the park….”Disneyland will never be finished”. While most of us realize that statement means that sometimes things that are beloved (sometimes by a very vocal minority) will need to be replaced, the rest of you have decided that if you love it, it must never be touched. And your argument is always the same, “Disney Corporate Greed”. Do me a favor and go to Goggle Map and take a look at Disneyland…there isn’t a lot of space to work with. And the call to add value to the park is neverending, from stockholders to the people on here that truly do love the park. But you can’t cram Star Wars land or Marvel land into Tomorrowland without taking out a few buildings….I can’t wait to hear the uproar when they tear up the Captain EO theater so they can bring the additional rides everyone demands. I can just hear it now, “I used to sit there for hours and enjoy the classic 80′s pop and now they’re ruining Disneyland forever!!”.

    I know that sometimes change is not what we all want but consider how boring the park would be if Disney had left it exactly as it was built on day 1…with the broken toilets and the soft asphalt. The park is never going to be finished, learn to accept it and move on.

    • Monorail Dreamer

      Completely Agree!!

    • Larry Parker

      Agree-change is good if its intent is to improve the park. But change for the sake of simply increasing profits at the expense of park quality is the main thing that bring on complaints. And change motivated by greed I don’t believe is what Walt intended when he stated that Disneyland will be constantly changing.

  • Larry Parker

    Interesting comment how even though Pressler is gone, his modus operandi of profit over quality in the parks remains. I agree that there’s alot of truth to that, although things are not as bad as then. And it isn’t really Pressler who was to blame-he was hired by Eisner and did Eisner’s(a micro-manager)bidding. And of course the current Disney CEO Iger was hand-picked by Eisner, and to a significant degree holds a similar philosophy as Eisner’s. In a year or two, Iger will retire I understand. Hopefully the new CEO will have more of an appreciation for the beauty and genius of Walt’s creations. Both Eisner and Iger are mainly accountants, with little artistic appreciation. What a shame that profiteers control Walt’s artistic genius.

  • jkh1978

    I’m on the east coast and rarely make it out to Disneyland. I wish I could visit more often.

    Could you provide pictures of those AC ceilings? I can picture how the new fake way looks but wondering what those old buildings look like.

  • Mousecat

    Love the discussion:

    ScottOlsen: Great quote. Thanks.

    JCSklpr70: Great observation.

    PoopedPirate: Come back next week.

    Fnord: Great observation.

    JimmyCricketFan: Interesting. Scale is a powerful tool. Look at what Universal was forced to do at Harry Potter. They were required to maintain small store footprints, appropriate for the location and just like the movies. I understand sales are good. At one time the Emporium was simply larger than every other store on Main Street. The rest of the block buildings were carved up into smaller spaces. More intimate. Look at the older restaurants in the Magic Kingdom. Post-Walt and the same thing.

    Algernon: I want to go on that ride.

    Disneyfan11: Kids drinking coffee. When did that start happening?

    Klutch: In the original planning for the park, Walt really wanted brand names to populate the stores. It lent an aura of authenticity. Swift made meats and ran the Market House. Wurlitzer had an organ shop right on the corner. Think of the real life greeting card companies. Starbucks is the right vendor. They serve a quality product that is loved by many. I thank them for free wi-fi and a place to meet friends and clients.

    Bayouguy: [biting tongue]

    heysi: You are not going to like next week’s article. Not complaining about change. I hope I am using change as a way of relating some of the park’s history (after all I am plugging a new book on the topic) and to talk a bit about urban design principles using the facility to illustrate my points. Change is good. Walt would have guys move trees ten feet over night because he thought they were in the way. Thanks for starting the “get over it” thread. Much needed.

    Monorail Dreamer: see above

    Larry Parker: Remember that Tom Staggs was an Eisner guy. Strategic planning. Thank goodness he has young boys. We may be a generation away from that sort of change.

    Jkh1978: if you look at the photo just above the stove you can see the “beams.” That is a good shot. They look correct from there. If you are in the main room, standing in the queue it is a bit more obvious. Here is how I think. In my head, what guy would build a building in the 1890s at 45 degree angles for the support beams?

    Sam
    http://www.facebook.com/TheDisneylandStory

    • DLRXMonorailPilot

      Solid points here. I think we all look to the “Walt’s Disneyland” as this perfect place that we lost forever. The reality is it changed more in the first 10 years (while he was alive) then in any other peroid of time. Walt built this place because it never would be finished. He wanted it to change constantly, stay fresh, and be able to fix any mistakes. People complain because the merchandise as spread out, because some old favorites are gone, but if we never changed anything people would stop comming back. People complain about the intrusion of a brand into main street…guess what thats how it was built. If you ever question if Walt would approve remember this: There was a bra shop on Main Street when he opened it.

  • ex-wdi

    The checkerboard will be used as a table frequently, and get coffee spills all over it. Since it costs money to replace/clean, look for it to be removed soon due to bad design.

  • ogso

    Great article, and yes old guy here who remembers the “park” aspect of Disneyland. When I’m at the park I tend to stroll so I like to look at all the little elements of each building. Will I miss some of the past elements of strolling through the market house? Sure, but as long as I can sit around and watch the little ones be in awe I’ll be happy. The older I get the more time I spend at small world and the tiki just people watching. Yes I’m a spoiled AP’r and long for the people mover but overall still pretty happy with small changes. Now don’t get me started with the court of angels….