LOS ANGELES — Disneyland, the amusement park that has played a role in influencing American culture, is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and retailers hope some magical Disney dust rubs off on them.
The world’s number two entertainment park by attendance drew 13.4 million people last year, behind Disney World, which had 15.2 million visitors. Its annual economic impact in Southern California has grown to $3.6 billion, according to a 2005 study by CB Richard Ellis Group Inc.’s CBRE Consulting and Allan D. Kotin & Associates that was commissioned by the Walt Disney Co. The figure reflects spending by visitors at hotels, restaurants and other entertainment venues.
Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, on what had been a 160-acre orange grove in then-rural Anaheim, Calif., helping to unleash what became a corporate behemoth of entertainment, media and marketing. Eighteen months of anniversary events are set for Disney’s theme parks around the world and are to end Sept. 30, 2006.
The golden anniversary highlights Disney apparel, which in recent years has entered the realm of fashionable, kitsch-y cool, and represents a megamarketing opportunity for Disney partners such as McDonald’s, Kodak, Coca-Cola and Nestlé.
In addition, Orange County malls such as South Coast Plaza, with almost three million square feet of retail space and more than 20 million visitors a year, are betting that their Disney anniversary tie-ins have a golden touch with shoppers.
More than 43 million people who visited Orange County last year spent a total of $7.3 billion, according to CIC Research, a San Diego-based travel research firm. Of those dollars, 21 percent went toward shopping, compared with 18 percent for amusements and attractions.
South Coast Plaza, which shuttles customers 14 miles between the shopping center and the Disneyland Hotel for five round-trips a day, is developing a special installation with Disney featuring a retail component, said South Coast spokeswoman Debra Gunn-Downing. It will launch in June or July. The center expects tourism to increase during the celebration.
“What’s good for Disney is good for South Coast Plaza and vice versa,” Gunn-Downing said.
Among the potential beneficiaries of the Magic Kingdom’s half-centennial is the Fred Segal Fun store-in-store whose owner, Jackie Brander, is co-designer of the Disney Vintage line that is carried at the store and at about 184 other locations, including Kitson and Madison in the Los Angeles area and Scoop and Bergdorf Goodman in New York.
The two-year-old contemporary line of T-shirts, thermals, hoodies and cashmere knits emblazoned with archival art from the Disney studio and embellishments is adding a component bearing Disneyland’s 50th anniversary mark. The collection of form-fitting T-shirts will feature poster art of the park’s attractions, such as the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as images dating to its opening. Studs, embroidery and rhinestones will accent the shirts, featuring a backside with the numbers 50 and 05 flanking Mickey Mouse ears.
“It’s the first time Disneyland has allowed proprietary artwork to be sold outside of the park,” said Dennis Green, senior vice president of Disney’s consumer products division.
Brander wants to limit product distribution. She plans to roll out the pieces next month in her store in tandem with a celebrity launch party, as well as at Disneyland’s higher-end souvenir stores. In the fall, she will distribute the line, which wholesales from $26 to $58, to her key retailers. Sales might reach $2 million by the end of the year.
“We want to keep it as exclusive as possible to cater to that Disney fan, whether she’s a soccer mom or collector,” said Brander, who is adding limited-edition, higher-end pieces to the Disney Vintage line, such as Levi’s beaded with Mickey Mouse down the leg.
Kitson, the trendy boutique on Robertson Boulevard, has been working with Brander on an exclusive product assortment featuring Tinkerbell, Peter Pan’s mischievous sprite. The products range from T-shirts for $65 to cashmere sweaters for $345.
“I don’t want to become a cartoon store, but we want to capitalize on pop culture,” said Kitson owner Fraser Ross. “But instead of buying all the characters we go into the one character, otherwise you become a Disney store.”
Ross, who has carried the line for almost a year, estimated sales from the Tinkerbell products have been $100,000.
For Disneyland, that kind of cachet was appealing, said Mary Murray, director of specialized businesses for The Disneyland Resort. She attributed much of the success of the higher-end Disney product to celebrities such as Lenny Kravitz sporting their favorite Disney characters when the retro craze started a few years ago.
“Before that, the only place you could get an iconic memory was when you went to a theme park,” Murray said. “But with Mickey now being hip and cool, it has translated beyond theme parks.”
Murray said the company didn’t really go after retailers to sell its apparel, and left it to the mass market to produce.
“But based on the success that Jackie [Brander] has had with the Disney Vintage line we thought it was a prime opportunity to partner with a company and a well-known Hollywood retailer that would do justice to Disney,” she said.
Disneyland has also been doing big business internally, most notably with the sales of its iconic Mickey Mouse ears. The ears are the most popular of the park’s souvenirs, with more than 78.6 million sold since 1955.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary, Disney produced special golden ears — included among 500 items that will only be sold during the celebration — that have proved so popular that Disneyland has had a hard time keeping them in stock.
“We started selling Mickey Mouse gold ears in March,” said Duncan Wardle, vice president of press and publicity for Disney. “Traditionally children’s black ears would outsell [those for] adults, but the gold ears sold out after the May 5 kickoff and we had to rush in reorders.”
Disneyland has also painted gold some of the vehicles on rides that date from 1955, including famous ones such as The Mad Hatter Tea Party and Jungle Cruise.