The world’s most famous mouse has added mall rat to his repertoire. Disney Springs, Walt Disney World Resort’s shopping, dining and entertainment complex that covers 120 acres and 1.1 million square feet outside Orlando, Fla., unveiled Town Center in May. The latest of four sections, known as “neighborhoods,” Town Center represents the company’s foray into upscale retail and restaurants, and follows the Landing, a waterfront neighborhood with boutiques and fare that debuted in September. The re-branding and expansion of Downtown Disney, which doubled tenants to 150, began a few years ago. It’s the latest reinvention for the company-owned, leased and managed property, which premiered as Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village in 1975.
“The new name is befitting because customers don’t even recognize the place when they get off the escalators,” said Maribeth Bisienere, senior vice president for Disney Springs.
The complex has Uniqlo’s first Southeastern door, Under Armour, Sephora, Kate Spade New York, Anthropologie and Lucky Brand, among others, at Town Center. This premier section also houses eateries by James Beard winners to squelch any food snobbery about theme parks.
“We were cognizant about brands that set us apart — some like Zara — that most guests can’t get in their hometown,” she said.
Entry doesn’t require a ticket to the theme park. Disney virtually rolls out a red carpet to Interstate 4, with widened roads and free parking. Two new garages add 6,000 spaces with smart technology.
In keeping with that signature Disney magic, the term “mall” is frowned upon.
“It’s more an experience with discovery around every corner,” said Bisienere, citing nonstop daily entertainment and Walt Disney Imagineers’ equally high standards for storytelling here, as for any facet of the brand. “We hadn’t made a large investment in Downtown Disney for a while and really wanted to make something special.”
Honoring the natural spring that bisects Town Center, the team concocted an old-fashioned, 20th-century town. Quaint bridges and repurposed bricks from nearby Rollins College are essentially part of a detailed set. The onus of spinning a good yarn falls on retailers, too. American Threads, an Atlanta-based women’s apparel specialty chain, came up with the fictional, urban renewal backstory of a former American flag factory. Spools of thread display jewelry, and a patch of distressed wood flooring at the cashwrap is meant to be where an elevator shaft once stood.
“Disney asked that our design tie into the story of Disney Springs,” said American Threads owner Anne Min, adding that’s just the start of differences at Disney compared to other stores in the chain.
Predicting a greater volume of inventory, she increased square footage from the average 2,000 to 2,500 at Disney. Longer hours accommodate after-dinner shoppers, and the center doesn’t close on holidays like her other stores. The denim-heavy, Los Angeles direction would be lost on this overheated clientele, so she concentrates on lightweight resortwear from Sea Gypsies and Yireh. Matisse Footwear and its Coconuts and Understated Leather lines are among 24 shoe brands — double the norm. Portability is key.
“I get a sense that international customers are coming with half-empty suitcases knowing they’ll shop a lot,” said Min, of her first Florida store’s instant ascent to a top-three producer.
The Visit Orlando tourism bureau tracked 66.1 million visitors to the city in 2015, the most of any domestic destination. The statistic attracted Uniqlo to eschew Miami and Atlanta for its 45th brick-and-mortar store in the U.S. The bi-level, 25,000-square-foot plan with full presentation of its LifeWear collections opened in July and is grander than the brand’s standard scale, according to Hiroshi Taki, the chain’s U.S. chief executive officer, who’s focusing on larger stores in prime locations. He reports it’s already one of the company’s highest volume stores in the U.S. “The customer response reflects the global nature of our customer base and the strength of our partnership with The Walt Disney Co.”
Inventory expands Uniqlo’s collaboration with Disney consumer products, like exclusive character T-shirts. A site-specific Japanese heritage section shares its “Disney story” through cotton kimonos, silk hand fans and other souvenirs. “People have been especially excited by events designed around authentic Japanese culture like calligraphy and origami lessons,” he added.
Lacoste opened its 15th store in Florida and fourth in Orlando, after the Mall at Millenia and two outlets, in June.
“Florida is our number-one region in volume. Miami and Orlando are particularly strong,” said the brand’s North America president and ceo, Joëlle Grünberg. “Traffic has been great from the start. Customers strongly peak in the evening, which is unusual compared to our other stores.”
At 2,800 square feet, it’s also bigger than the average store. A polo wall displays 40 colors for the most popular item, L.12.12 piqué shirts. A strategic children’s offering and mini-me items for men and boys reflect the center’s family-driven business. She said sales would definitely rank in the company’s top 10, maybe the top five.
Palm Beach-born Lilly Pulitzer isn’t far behind Lacoste with 11 stores in Florida, including three in Orlando. The Disney Springs shop came about through its year-round resort offer and a longterm relationship with Disney’s on-property shops.
“It was very compelling to be part of a modern retail venture in one of the top tourist destinations in the world,” said a company spokeswoman.
The Disney-esque tale about Lilly Pulitzer’s namesake founder’s juice stand and the state’s citrus crop incorporates orange slices for door handles and a pink neon sign that reads, “Squeeze Me.” A resort backpack, a well-received exclusive, comes with purchases of $150. “It’s been among top doors for traffic since opening in May. We expect above average performance.”