Taking a trip to Disney without buying a souvenir? That's practically impossible. A day in the parks without a personalized pair of Mickey ears, a pin to commemorate your child’s first rollercoaster ride, or even one of those crazy light-up balloons that sync with nighttime shows doesn’t make for the same joyous experience.
While the take-home trinkets and gifts of today—candied apples! keychains! Tsum Tsums!—feel so imperative to the park-going experience, the doo-dads for sale at Walt Disney World and Disneyland back in the day (much like the old-school rides) were a whole lot different. Instead of heading to the parking lot with a new t-shirt or towel, your family could have been packing their car up with corsets, chandeliers, vintage candles—or two kinds of drugs. (Well, technically one, but you’ll see.)
The next time you pop into Main Street to see what stuffed animals are for sale or lament the price of that EPCOT-themed wine glass (to commemorate your experience drinking around the world), just remember: the shopping at Disney parks used to be a lot weirder:
A hand-carved wooden pipe (and a signature tobacco blend)
Back in the early days of Disneyland and Walt Disney World, you could visit Main Street’s tobacco shop and take home a pipe or some smokes—or light up practically anywhere within the park, if that’s what you preferred. And, in keeping everything turn-of-the-century, it was only normal that they handed out matchbooks and an Indian chief statue greeted you directly from Main Street. The shops closed after 35 years in business—a true sign of the times—but the figure still stands in front as a symbol of what once was...and that Mickey Mouse no longer offers take-home tobacco.
Modern bras and underpinnings
When Disneyland opened, it filled its Main Street with vendors who would emphasize America’s small-town demeanor at the turn of the century. And, at Hollywood-Maxwell’s Intimate Apparel Shop, guests could discover the history of lingerie and corsets as well as buy them. Having an oversized mechanical tour guide named The Wonderful Wizard of Bras take patrons through the history of vintage undergarments before they selected their own intimates was a rather peculiar scene, but the lingerie outfitter did provide one gift that keeps on giving: modern-day park guests can easily spot this out-of-place former shop by its ideal parade location, as it’s the only storefront with a full porch.
The first-ever Doritos
Believe it or not, the tortilla chips you know and love were created at Disneyland—and done so by accident. Way back when, the park was home to a Frito-Lay Co.-owned restaurant specializing in Tex-Mex cuisine called Casa de Fritos. Though Frito-based foods were on the menu, a secondary vendor provided tortillas and taco shells to the restaurant, and upon noticing the cook discarding tortillas, recommended he turn them into chips instead. The bite-size snack eventually (and quietly) made its way to the menu, and became such a hit with park guests that when Frito-Lay Co. found out what was going on, they commissioned the family behind the tortillas to produce their Doritos, or “little golden things”, full-time. Sadly, you can’t get homemade chips that good any longer, but that restaurant, now called Rancho del Zocalo, still stands to this day.
Bouquets of fake flowers
Why offer up real nature when you can Imagineer it? Flower carts formerly parked throughout Disney parks opted for technicolor blooms instead of the real thing, selling bright, bold imitation florals daily. Perhaps the thinking was they wouldn’t wilt on the way home, or just that they wouldn’t need a nursery to support the crowds, but these carts dedicated to simple wonders sadly went by the wayside in the nineties. Still, we can’t help but think a bouquet that never goes bad makes for a much better take-home than a soon-to-wilt balloon.
A taste of animal poop...candy
While most of Disney’s souvenir missteps occurred in the early days of the park, these questionable snacks were introduced to Zuri’s Sweets Shop at Animal Kingdom just last year. During the short window of time they were for sale, the chocolate-y dung desserts came in the shape of four different animals’ castoffs—elephant, hippo, giraffe and tamarin—and utilized a combination of pretzels, coconut and krispies to get the right, erm, consistency. When the treats were subsequently pulled two weeks later, Disney claimed they were just testing the product, but word on the Harambe streets is that so many complaints were voiced that they pulled the to-be permanent snack altogether.
You couldn’t fill a prescription or pick up cough syrup at the long-since-shuttered Upjohn Pharmacy on Disneyland’s Main Street, but there’s one thing you could get: a complimentary bottle of vitamins. The shop, which flung its doors open on Disneyland's first day, was decorated to look like a early 1900s pharmacy with all of the proper accoutrements, but only offered one thing. Day guests were likely more apt to take delicious doses of the sweet treats and candies for sale next door instead, but hey! A free souvenir is a free souvenir.
When you envision a Disneyland candle shop, you’re probably picturing a calm environment with some nice decorative Mickey or Minnie pillars, right? Well, Disneyland’s Main Street Candle Shop was instead packed with what retro dreams and hallucinations are made of. Candlesticks hung from the rafters and color exploded from the walls as the entire shop was filled to the brim with gorgeous albeit flammable take-homes. Some of the more unique offerings came from ones shaped like figurines, food, animals and holiday favorites, all providing their own dose of whimsy. The store went away in the mid-seventies, which make sense, but we still wish we could have seen it in its full crazy waxy glory.
Dusty old antiques
At the One Of A Kind shop in Disneyland, guests could pick up antiques, dolls, metal trinkets, chandeliers and plenty of other exclusively fragile souvenirs that would probably never survive the walk back to the car. Walt Disney and his wife Lillian adored antique stores and loved that this one was in their park, but due to its size and clutter, it supposedly was a nightmare to remove large items when purchased. The Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World was also home to an Olde World Antiques shop, which was supposedly far from lucrative, but kept open for a long while for its beloved simple aesthetic. Antiques stores in theme parks clearly don’t make the best souvenir business.
An original animation cel
Back during Disneyland’s first decade stood a small spot called Art Corner, a nook which sold art supplies, postcards and, oh, inexpensive cels from the early animated movies Disney was churning out on the regular. These days, those items are near-exclusively sold in galleries and at auction as they’re worth a fortune, but back then, you could pick up a popcorn, a new pen and a wise investment for your fiscal future. Not too bad for a day at the park.
Custom perfume blends
Guests at Mlle. Antoinette’s Parfumerie in Disneyland and Mlle. Lafayette’s Perfumerie in Walt Disney World could work with staff on hand to create a unique scent that made for quite the dreamy souvenir. Shopkeepers would note the blend of scents each customer purchased so that they could come back and pick up a new souvenir bottle whenever they traveled back—until, of course, both shops subsequently shuttered.
A bevy of grape juice
Throughout Disneyland’s first twenty-five years, guests could quench their thirst not with water or soda or even liquor, but with Welch’s Grape Juice, which was sold at an individual namesake stand. Juice was all the rage at this time—even Sunkist had a storefront serving OJ right on Main Street—but Welch’s trifecta of grape juice in purple, red, or white just seems like the world’s easiest way to ruin a summertime outfit on the car ride back home, not to mention more options of the sugary drink than one would ever need. (Though, if you spilled, you could take home a brand new Disneyland t-shirt too!)