Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Last Weekend (The Happiest Place Finale III)

People are always saying that change is a good thing. But all they're really saying is that something you didn't want to happen at all... has happened. My store is closing this week. I own a store, did I ever tell you that? It's a lovely store, and in a week it'll be something really depressing, like a Baby Gap. Soon, it'll be just a memory. In fact, someone, some foolish person, will probably think it's a tribute to this city, the way it keeps changing on you, the way you can never count on it, or something. I know because that's the sort of thing I'm always saying. But the truth is... I'm heartbroken. I feel as if a part of me has died, and my mother has died all over again, and no one can ever make it right.

This is the piece of dialogue that immediately came to mind from the very moment I heard Higher Up say those (un)magical words, "I'm here to tell you that your store is closing." Its a line from one of my top ten favorite movies of all time, "You've Got Mail". Kathleen Kelley's bookstore, "The Shop Around the Corner" has finally closed, mostly due to lack of business because of the recent opening of book megastore Fox Books. Kathleen is AOL IM'ing (remember, this is 1998, hence the name of the movie) NY152 with her story. I decided that when I wrote my last The Happiest Place in the Mall post, this would be the monologue I would lead with.

And that time is now.

Our store is closed. During the final week, our store had a 40% off sale going those first few days, and on Monday, we began to empty walls. Mostly the back corners that weren't very visible from the front of the store. By week's end, the back walls of the store was empty. When I closed the store on Friday night, we had moved tables to block off the famed Plush Mountain and all that surrounded it.

On Saturday morning, Charlotta came in, as did Bo Peep and Hollipop, then Snow White.  Baloo and Grumpy joined us later.  And the store was open one final time. The crowd came in fast and furious, buying handfuls and armfuls and bagfuls of basketfuls of stuff, this time at an additional 75% off. Irena, a guest who I had known from previous visits, had purchases amassing over $400, but when the discount came in, her final bill was around $130.

Slowly but surely, all of the sweatshirts were on stage. Then were gone. All of the t-shirts were on stage. Then were bought. All of the Sharpay bedroom playsets were on stage. Then were bought. All of the Hannah Montana dolls, all of the Wall*E action figures, all of the mini-snowglobes... all on stage, then all gone.

By the end of the day, this was The Happiest Place in the Mall.  High School Musical water bottles, some Camp Rock picture frames and a few other things that are out of the pic.  This was taken right inside the doorway of the store.

The tables we were using to keep people from going towards the now empty back of the store were moving farther and farther to the center of the store. Snow White and I spent most of the morning pulling out cases of merchandise from backstage, unpacking it then putting it onstage, where much of it would be snatched up almost immediately.

One lady came to me, shoving a shirt, a few Cars notebooks and a Hannah Montana doll in my hand. The line was at least 20 people deep, wrapping around much of the store, and she asked me to hold the merchandise. I told her that we couldn't hold it, much like I had told Mom 1 and Mom 2, and that we just wouldn't... and she cut me off, saying she only needed 15 minutes, she needed to go meet someone, can we just hold it for 15 minutes, please please, and I said, "Fine. Fifteen minutes. And then it has to go back out."

So, a quarter of an hour later, maybe a little more, Charlotta calls to me from behind the box office... "d$! Please get this stuff out of here! I'm tripping all over it!" I said, "Yep" and I grabbed it. Before I could take two steps, a gentleman in line said, "I'll take those notebooks!" I nodded and handed them over. I put back the sweatshirt and the Hannah Montana doll. And of course, a few minutes later, the woman comes back in. I simply said, "I'm sorry ma'am, we had to put it back out." She huffed, she rolled her eyes and walked away. On a normal day, I would have been concerned--actually, on a normal day, we would have held the stuff for her--but today? Our last day of business... its gone. No concern. That sounds terrible, doesn't it? Sorry. Only a little. I was nice about, though.

Hollipop and Bo Peep worked feverishly ringing up merchandise for people, Charlotta was bagging stuff as quick as possible... the line grew and grew, with no end in sight. And after about four hours, the end was in sight. The front two walls had stuff on them, a few walls next to them did, a few tables had some items... and that was it. The store was coming to an end. Around 4pm, my time on the floor was done, and I clocked out.

I went into the bathroom, and I unbuttoned my red The Disney Store shirt for the final time. I took it off, laid it on a nearby shelf, and slipped on a t-shirt that I had brought. I gathered my bag, put in my iPod headphones and then slipped out.

The next day was clean up/party day. I came in around 1pm, helped take down the shelving units that for 21 years had been filled to the rafters with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Handy Manny, Lizzie Maguire, Aladdin, The Lion King and more. In fact, Lion King stuff was what The Lovely Steph Leann got when she stopped by there in 2003 as part of her engagement day/scavenger hunt.

The shelving was down, I went into the now empty big room that was the stage, with all the empty fixtures shoved off to the side, the empty shelves on the walls collecting dust. The computers were turned off, the black screen of plastic over the main gates and windows. Outside we could even hear some people--kids too--wondering what happened, wondering why The Disney Store was there.

(My buddy Langer just sent me a FB chat message that said 'Hey... my daughter and I went by to see the abyss that was The Happiest Place...')

This past weekend, my friend The Freckled (Re)Becca told me she and her hubby, Bobowen, went by the mall, and some small child was standing in front of The Emptiest Place in the Mall, wailing loudly because he couldn't understand why he couldn't go in. I told The Freckled (Re)Becca that the kid should have gone and wailed in front of the mall manager's office. But... we'll get to that.

Let me finish the weekend... Sunday afternoon, I got ready for the closing party that night, working on things like trivia questions, setting up a prize wall we had for the Cast Members, helping the Magical Manager get ready for what she had planned... around 4:30, the Cast began to show up, one by one. Fauna, Flora, Merriweather. Snow White. Lady Kluck. Bo Peep (featured with me in the pic above). Hollipop. Charlotta. Baloo.  Grumpy.  Dinner. Pictures. Prizes. Videos. Trivia. Games. Memories. And... goodbyes.

Let's be real. I'd love to tell you I'll keep up with all of these people, these that I shared 40+ hours per week with for almost two years. I'd love to say that I'll be meeting them for lunch, or Facebooking or calling or whatever... but we all know that tends to go by the wayside as time goes by. People took other jobs, or are back in school, or are retiring, or are just staying at home with kids now... so when I say "goodbyes", I mean it for the most part. Perhaps not completely, but mostly. I'm under no illusions that I'll ever see at least half of these people again. Because that's what happens when the job you love ends. No, not there yet, just be patient.

After the party was over, I met up with Snow White and Hollipop at Sonic, where we enjoyed a few more laughs before saying goodbye again. Afterwards, I got in my car and drove back to The Cabana. The Lovely Steph Leann had already left for a weeklong business trip in Thomaston, GA, so I was alone. In the quiet of my home, I sat on my couch, not turning on the interweb, not turning on the television, not even turning on the iPod... I just sat quietly. I sighed, leaned back and just sat for a few minutes.

And, around 11am or so on Monday morning, I drove up to the Galleria parking lot, parked and walked into the back door of The Happiest Place in the Mall. I said hello to the Magical Manager and on the desk, I laid my Silver Pass (re: admission pass), the Silver Pass held by The Lovely Steph Leann, my Disney ID Card and my store key. And then... I left.

It was over. I was no longer employed by The Walt Disney Company.

Originally, this post here was to be much longer, but I realized it was too long, and would be better served by breaking this final Happiest Place post into 2 parts...  because its already written, its still one post--just in two parts.  Well, okay, its two posts, but the same column.  What I mean is... uh... okay... 

So, check back tomorrow when you'll get the answer to the question "Why did you close?" and "What's next?", or at least the answer I can give you...

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