Back in the early 1990s when the Disney Store’s started opening I was lucky enough to have four, yes four locations near me. Coliseum Mall in Hampton, Greenbrier and Chesapeake Square Malls in Chesapeake and Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach each had a wonderful piece of Disney magic in them. While I loved the Hampton location, I never really connected with their staff as I primarily shopped their store as a college freshman that worked at the music store down the hall. Eventually the Chesapeake Square location became my “magic pit stop” of choice as it was only about 15 minutes from my house, there I met the wonderful and funny Ada and felt a “connection to Disney” because of that. As time went on, the Coliseum, then Greenbrier and finally the Chesapeake Square stores closed, leaving only Lynnhaven (Store #404). As time wore on I became close with the amazing Cast Members at the Lynnhaven store. Lynnhaven is a good 40 minutes east of me, if of course there is no traffic which face it that is rare, but it is still a trip we try and make once a month just to fill up our Disney magic tanks. Over the years I have worked on Black Friday with them, interacted with them on Facebook as friends, and just in general enjoyed being around them.
Last month I received a text that stole a part of the magic from me in a way that I never thought possible. It seems that Lynnhaven is renovating the mall, and in the process wanted to move the old “pink and green” style Disney Store to another location in the mall. Disney Store Corporate decided that even though store #404 had supported itself for over 25 years, and was in the mall closest to one of the largest tourist beaches on the eastern seaboard this wasn’t an option they wanted to pursue.
Last weekend I went to DC and stopped at my next closest Disney Store at the Potomac Mills Outlet while heading up 95 North. I was perhaps 15-feet into the store when the tears started, because the realization that this would be my “home store” hit me like a ton of bricks. While I understand I am fortunate to HAVE a Disney Store within a three hour radius of me because there are many Main Streeters saying “I don’t have a Disney Store anywhere near me and I survive” I also realize that Disney Store #404 is a family. The CMs at 404 donate countless hours of time to local charities. They also make magic at work for guests and spread cheer daily. They spread the word of the magic their guests create, this includes them telling TMSM about a wonderful guest Robin, that spread magic in the parks on her birthday. They remember guests by name, tell jokes to children, and are in general just a pleasure to spend time with because they embody “Disney Magic”. This Ohana is now being split up, with no guarantee they will ever be reunited, and this Main Streeters breaks my heart.
Sunday January 17th was 404’s Cast Member “See You Real Soon” party. I was invited because I was technically still a seasonal CM from helping on Black Friday, so I accepted the invite. Other previous CMs were also in attendance, including Larissa who had come in from Colorado to say good-bye to the store. I arrived a few minutes late because of the return trip from DC, and as I walked up to the closed gate, a wave of sadness hit me that is until others saw me walking in and called out their welcomes. That friendly welcoming attitude, even at a time of sadness, is something I will always treasure.
While at the party I watched an amazing video made by one of the CM’s for the main store manager that showcased just how magical this team is. I have to admit I honestly had no clue just how involved with various charities #404 had been until I saw the photos of the team on the video from various charity events. I spent three hours playing Disney related games, sharing magical moments, and I won’t lie to you I cried. I cried not only because this part of the magic was going to be gone from my life, but because this amazing team was being split up. I watched this amazing team come together for one last round of singing the Mickey Mouse Club closing theme song… and as “see ya real soon” warbled out of many a throat, tears came rolling down many a cheek.
Monday January the 18th Main Streeters was the last night for Disney Store #404. I once again made the drive to the store, because I had said I would be there to support the team. So Monday night Drew and I jumped in my little Ford Focus and zipped through the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel on 64 Eastbound. Upon arriving the number of cast members, and store regulars (to include Main Streeter Steven S. and his wonderful daughter), that had come out to support the CMs of 404 made my heart full of joy. When the time came to lock the gates, everyone who wasn’t closing staff gathered in the hall, and once again the Mickey Mouse Club them song was sung as the closing team officially pulled the gate closed for the last time. With tears streaming down our faces as we hit the “Why because” part of the song the words “because we LOVE you” were sung so loudly they echoed through the halls of Lynnhaven Mall.
While I am holding on to the hope that perhaps Disney Corporate will realize the mistake they have made and will perhaps rent a new space at Lynnhaven or nearby, I can’t help but feel sad knowing that the livelihood and plans of these wonderful CMs have been so effected right near the holidays. I also tear up thinking of all the positive moments I have had in the store either with the CMs, my husband, my Ohana, or other guests. So, I leave you on this Monday night with this. If you have a Disney Store, appreciate it and more importantly let the CMs know you appreciate them. If you don’t, make sure you have a way to share the magic when you are home. And finally to Kat, Beth, Sami, Sarah, Keith, Ada, Larissa, Jen, Kendra, Mary Ann, Patti, Jo Ellen, Nicole, David, Felicia, Meridith, Katrina, and every other Cast Member at Disney Store #404 that has created magic for myself, my loved ones, or anyone else, I want to say “Thank You” to each of the CMs that Drew, myself and our friends and family have had the pleasure of meeting at all of the Disney Stores in the Hampton Roads area. Thank you for making magic and memories. Thank you for accepting and loving those of us who love the magic of Disney as much as you. Thank you for including myself and Drew as a part of your wonderful family. Thank you for bringing the Disney magic to our lives at home. Thank you for being the best Disney Store CMs on Earth. Please know, I adore each of you and wish you nothing but the best! So, as I wrap this article, I won’t say good-bye to Disney Store #404 and its wonderful Cast Members, because as we were told at the CM party, this isn’t good-bye, just see you real soon!