Thursday, May 06, 2010

What Happened (The Happiest Place Finale Part IV)

 (to read the posts I've written concerning our closing, you can read:

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs:  The Happiest Place Finale Part I
Cold Blooded : The Happiest Place Finale II
The Last Weekend:  The Happiest Place Finale Part III 
Funny thing happened on Tuesday morning, though.  The sun came up.  And later that night, while I was driving the county highways between Samson and Enterprise on the way to Po Folks to meet up with some friends for dinner, the sun was setting.  And Wednesday?  The sun came up again.  The world kept turning, as I knew it would.
The next immediate step for me was easy... taking a few days off.  I had already informed The Lovely Steph Leann that after the store closed, I was taking a few days for myself.  I went back to Samson to see Mama $ for a day, I did some stuff around the house like painting baseboards, I ran some errands, finished a book ("Under the Dome" by Stephen King--amazing) and started another that I had to stop because it creeped me out ("The Regulators" by Richard Bachman), renegotiated our DirecTV rate, watched "Con Air" about 4 times, along with "Wall*E", "Cast Away", "Clear & Present Danger" and several other movies as a result of those renegotiations, and slept.  Alot.  Why?  Because I could.  

The Happiest Place in the Mall, in full glory at Christmas of 2008

My next step is Starbucks.  I've been with the company for awhile, and I'm very blessed to have a great relationship with MZ, the manager.  She is a dear friend, and she is great to me when it comes to helping me with my schedule... I've committed through the summer, so we'll see what happens from there.  Who knows.
As far as where we are, let me just say that The Lovely Steph Leann and I are very, very blessed.  We are by no means rich, unless you ask those who would like to tax us, but we're doing fine.  This is one of the reasons we are debt free--not to just to enjoy the freedom of not owing anyone anything, but also to be ready if one of us loses a job, or has a major pay cut... and that's what happened.  Don't worry about us, though... we'll be just fine. 
Alright, before the big question, let's answer some quick questions that were commonly asked... and I'll give you pretty much the questions as they were asked...

"Our store in Huntsville/Montgomery closed recently closed!  Are all the Disney Stores closing?"
First, your store in Huntsville closed almost 2 years ago.   The Disney Stores, though owned by Walt Disney, were sold to The Children's Place retail in the early part of the decade--and it did, in fact, save TDS chain.  But when The Children's Place put TDS up for sale, Walt Disney, in a much better position to do so in 2008 than in 2000, bought them back.  And as part of that change over from TCP back to Disney, about 98 stores-including Huntsville--were closed.  That closing has nothing to do with this closing.   Right now, they are closing about 22 stores, maybe 25, I dunno, for various reasons, including under-performing... you'll find out about our store by reading below.   As for that store in Montgomery, it closed like, 8 years ago.  Stop calling yourself a Disney Store fan.

"Are y'all relocating?  Where y'all going?"
No, we are not relocating.  Those who can do it are transferring to either other stores, or to the parks in Orlando.... well, one Cast Member is going to Orlando.  The rest are just losing their jobs, including myself.

The Happiest Place in the Mall, one week after closing.  Stuck the camera through the metal gate and snapped this photo.  The Lovely Steph Leann and I went by the mall the other day, and the guy who runs the nearby Cheap Sunglasses Kiosk, The Reverend Pimp Daddy, saw us looking at the empty store.  "It done closed.  Shame, too," said The Reverend Pimp Daddy.  I feel the same.

"What y'all doing with that stuff up top?"
Goes back to the company.  Ask me for further explanation when I am not writing it.  Because as Ferb says, "The internet is forever."

"Why are y'all closing?"
That is the question you want to know, isn't it?

Let me be up front here... anything I say is only my opinion.  There is nothing I've read, there is nothing I've heard, there is nothing that I will share that should be construed as speaking for The Walt Disney Company, the Disney Store, or any other entity involved.   Also, there is nothing that I say that should be taken as gospel... again, this is only what I can guess.  And... I'm not going to share everything I know.  Why?  Because the bridges I've built with The Happiest Place in the Mall are precious, and should not be burned. 

To be clear: I don't officially know what happened.  And I probably will never know.  I just give what I think happened based on my own experiences and observations.
I have three theories on what might have happened to our magical place of employment.
This is kind of a case of the theory being proved true, cause really, General Growth Properties, who owns The Riverchase Galleria, does, in fact, suck.  Our closing is not necessarily a reflection on the sucktitude of GGP, they will probably continue to bathe in sucktivity long after we are gone, but if Theory #1 is to be believed, then their suckocity added to our demise.
I'm guessing all malls work the same way to a point, but when a mall wants to get rid of someone, they raise the rent.  Some businesses refuse to pay, they leave, then the mall can get in whoever they want.  Right now, the hot part of the Galleria is the Sears end... head to the other end, and you got stores like Spencers and Lidz and a few others like such... its got a reputation for more of a "thug" type  go towards Sears, on our end of the food court, the higher end, higher quality stores like Gap, Talbots, Vikki's Secret, The Children's Place and of course, us. 
Essentially, we sent the mall a lease, they rejected it.  They've done similar things to other stores... I talked to someone at a shoe store in the Galleria, and they said they had sent a lease to the mall based on fair market value, and it was rejected in lieu of wanting 50% more.   Another store I know of was asked for 75% more.  When the mall wants you gone, they get you gone, or you pay a high price to be there.
This theory basically states that mall wanted us gone.  We were a thorn in their side.  We had dozens, sometimes hundreds of boxes on our back dock on a daily basis, we kept driving our U-Haul truck to the sidewalk to load up, they cited us for cardboard in the trash dumpster (which is a whole other ridiculous story)... perhaps they were just ready for us to get out.  And in their incompetence, it happened.
This one is a hard pill to swallow... I mean, for a job that we all loved so much, no one wanted to admit or believe that it was our own company who sold us out.  We were one of the top stores in the company of, at the time, 210+ stores, so if they wanted us closed, it would have to be a good reason.
What if they wanted us closed for a while?  You can't justify closing one of your top stores, so what if... what if they just sent a lease to the mall, one that was so ridiculous, that the mall itself would not and could not entertain accepting.  They reject it, Disney throws their hands up and says, "Whoops.  Guess we're out!"  I mention this theory really to play devil's advocate, just to be fair.
Here's what I think happened.  The Disney Stores have unveiled a new store design that will end up integrating into every Disney Store across the country.  They'll pour about a million dollars into each one, turning it from a magical little store to an Apple-esque interactive magical experience.
And we, our Happiest Place in the Mall, the oldest store in the company, would get one of those re-dos at some point.  It might be years down the line, but we'd get one.  Back when Just For Feet was a mega-company, they had a huge store right in the middle of our food court... rumor, unsubstantiated but plausible, had it that Disney lobbied for that spot but was unable to secure it.
So what does Disney do with us?  We're a store that will have to be renovated, certainly, but we need a bigger space.  Add in the fact that only one side of the mall is even desirable, and Disney has limited options all around.  Not to mention they are dealing with a mall that is... well, owned by a bankrupt bunch of suits.  It doesn't help when negotiations for a new lease break down, and the mall just flat out rejects the lease agreement sent forth by Disney. 
The Disney Store has two options... pay the price asked for, or close up shop.  Pay the price, keep a money making, successful store open, but when the remodeling comes to Birmingham, there are a whole new set of problems... bigger location needed, relocation of the store, transfer of Cast Members, transfer of merchandise... not to mention they've had to deal with a mall giving them grief at every turn, and might possibly be locked into a long term lease they cannot move around in.
Or, close up shop.  It will be a little painful at the beginning, but remove themselves entirely of the Birmingham market, step back, and when the time is right--if it ever is--go in fresh, go where they want, hire the Cast Members wanted, and do the new store design from scratch.  All the merchandise will be brand new, all the CMs will be brand new, the store will be brand new... and The Happiest Place in the Mall will be forgotten as it once was, replaced by the Most Magical Coolest Place in the Mall.
Yes, yes, there is The Summit, an outdoor mall that is the style of the new trend of malls in the last decade or so.  Its possible The Happiest Place could open there... but I don't think so.  The Disney Store is an indoor-type store, a stroller store, a place where moms and dads bring their kids.  Not a lot of strollers when its July and 98, or when its January and 31 in the sun, or when its driving down rain. 
The bright spot is the possible takeover of GGP.  Simon Malls, owner of such malls as Town Center in Kennesaw, GA, is trying to buy GGP.  And from what I understand, Disney and Simon Malls are like, besties.  If that is the case, and Simon Malls buys out GGP, becoming the new owners of The Riverchase Galleria, then who knows?

These are my theories, and what I believe.  And I'm probably a thousand percent off base.  And that's okay too... I'm not important enough to know whats up.

Another chapter in life, another "season" if you will--and its been a magical season, hasn't it?--has finished.  Clouds in My Coffee has not only been fun, but also therapeutic for me... for some of you who have been longtime sippers of the written Coffee, you might remember my struggle, or lack thereof, to leave NBC13, which put me at Starbucks as a career path.  And many of you remember my struggle to leave Starbucks (Between a Mouse and a Bean Place), and also when I finally did leave Starbucks management for The Walt Disney Company (Taking the Mouse, Leaving the Bean Place, which also deals with a closing).

For me personally, if I'm being totally honest, I'm glad its finally over.  Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather be discussing how I'm overworked by doing both The Happiest Place and Starbucks, and the decisions about what to do... as it is, I'm full time coffee now.  Its hard, though, because if we were closed due to lack of sales, we would hate it, but we could look to ourselves and say, "We didn't get the job done."  But our closing was due to circumstances beyond our control, which is the hardest pill to swallow. 

I loved my job so dearly.  I loved going to work.  I loved seeing the people I saw every day.  The store had true magic, magic to make people smile, to turn grown men and women into little kids by saying to themselves or whoever would listen, "When I was little, I would come in here and..."  The Cast Members were magical.  We cared about one another, like a family, like a bunch of brothers and sisters.  We are like an orphanage now, one that has shut down and has sent all the kids to live with brand new parents, some great (like my new "parents"), some not so great.  I was blessed to not only have one job, but two jobs that I love and am happy to be a part of--The Disney Store and Starbucks.  So, while I'm sad, broken hearted if you will, that I lose one, I'm very happy and excited that I have the other waiting for me. 

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 closed last week.  I work in a magical store, did I ever tell you that? It's a lovely store, and in a week it'll be something really depressing, like an Al-Queda run toy store.  Soon, it'll be just a memory. In fact, someone, some foolish person, will probably think it's a tribute to the Riverchase Galleria, 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, my Cast has died, and no one can ever make it right.

And with that, head high and smiling, I leave the Mouse and take the Bean Place.

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