Home » Exit Through The Gift Shop: 6 Lost Disney’s Hollywood Studios Stores

    Exit Through The Gift Shop: 6 Lost Disney’s Hollywood Studios Stores

    Sid Cahuenga's One-Of-A-Kind exterior

    Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened with a different name and spirit.

    Disney-MGM Studios. The Hollywood That Never Was And Always Will Be.

    For now, it’s The Hollywood That No Longer Is And Isn’t Quite Yet.  Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land paved over the park’s former backlot and promised a future no longer behind the scenes, but in them. Between the boarding groups and bus stops, however, lay the ruins. Animation Courtyard hasn’t featured real animation in it since 2003 or celebrated the process since 2015. Despite the recent addition of PizzeRizzo, the Muppets seem to be losing ground in Grand Avenue. With the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular still shuttered, the oldest corner of the Studios is trafficked only by tired feet in search of counter service and open chairs.

    No other Walt Disney World gate has changed more, faster than Hollywood Studios. Until halted plans resume, its identity crisis is here to stay.

    Because of that lopsided history, the best way to keep time at the Studios is by gift shop. So many have come, gone, or lost what originally earned them a star on the map. The following examples are just some of many, each notable, none definitive. Another list could be dedicated solely to the lost stands and temporary stores, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cart or any of the various Watto’s Grottos. These are merely signposts, beloved in their time or at least indicative of it.

    Sid Cahuenga’s One-Of-A-Kind Antiques and Curios

    Sid Cahuenga's One-Of-A-Kind exterior
    Image: Disney

    Nothing charts the course from Then to Now quite like Sid Cahuenga’s.

    Walking into the Studios, it’s easy to miss, but once seen, it’s impossible to overlook. On a quiet corner of the otherwise lively Hollywood Boulevard sits a shingle-topped bunaglow done up with Christmas lights all year round.

    But it’s the glitz and glamour that are out place – Mr. and Mrs. Cahuenga got there first. When Tinseltown boxed them in, they refused to sell, at least the land. They had no problem selling props, costumes, and other motion picture paraphernalia salvaged from studio dumpsters. Then the stars came out for Sid, trading autographs for artifacts, making him as famous as any Hollywood landmark.

    At least, that’s the story Disney used to tell. There never was a Mr. or Mrs. Cahuenga, though more than a few stubborn bungalow owners did hold out against the 1930s urban sprawl. The store and its namesake were fabrications, tantalizingly loose threads in the tapestry. Anyone looking to own a piece of that Never Was or Always Will Be could find something at Sid’s.

    On the low end, shoppers could score reproduction posters, eight-by-ten headshots of their favorite Golden Age stars, or chalkware statuettes of Lauren and/or Hardy. The high end, however, is what made Sid’s Sid’s.

    What about a signed eight-by-ten headshot?

    The walls of the Cahuenga household were covered with framed and verified autographs of every actor, actress, and adjacent celebrity imaginable. Enjoyed the Indiana Jones show? Take home a press photo from Raiders of the Lost Ark personally Sharpied by Harrison Ford. These items, currency in the store’s fiction, ranged from several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the name, but they were just the start.

    Signatures from Uncle Walt himself hovered around $5,500, on everything from old checks to memorandum over his daughter’s stock options. Props at every price point, starting with Oscar programs touched by very important hands, scattered the house and covered all remaining space on the repurposed furniture. A long-time centerpiece was the one-and-only jacket worn by Dick Van Dyke in the animated “Jolly Holiday” sequence of Mary Poppins. The right fan could’ve worn it to their car for a cool $65,000.

    But most who crossed the welcome mat never bought anything, and that was the real beauty of the place. It was a store, obviously, but also its own attraction and side story. Browsing was entertainment enough. Sid made sure of it.

    From opening day in 1989 until his death in 2005, actor Danny Dillon played Cahuenga like a Los Angeles landmark. He never ran out of dishy stories, peerless impressions, or hearty hellos for his customers. Of all the Streetmosphere characters, his was the most constant, convincing more than a few visitors that Sid was the genuine article. Dillon’s role was never recast. His own autographed eight-by-ten hung beside the door for years after, not far from his chalkboard of fresh-daily trivia.

    Not long after Dillon’s passing, as the park continued to shake off its Movie Magic branding, Sid Cahuenga’s changed. What old merchandise remained lost ground to modern stock more commonly found in Art of Disney galleries. The store survived in this half-hearted state until the resort introduced the MyMagic+ system. Needing front-of-park assistance to support it, Sid’s porch was taken over by MagicBand kiosks in August 2013. That November, the interior followed suit, becoming a dedicated MyMagic+ help center. Though some headshots still hang on the walls, most of the props and vintage merchandise was moved across the park to The Showcase Shop at the end of the Studio Backlot Tour.

    Within a few years, Sid’s picture was gone. His truck, always reliably parked in the driveway and loaded with scavenged set dressing, didn’t last much longer. The whereabouts of the recycled diver from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that stood perpetual watch on its flatbed remain unknown.

    The best way to contextualize its charm, eccentricity, and historical value is by its rare honor – Sid Cahuenga’s One-Of-A-Kind Antiques and Curious earned its own collectable pin. How many other gift shops can say that?

    Writer’s Stop

    inside the Writer's Stop
    Image: Theme Park Tourist

    In all the ways Sid Cahuenga’s was timeless, the Writer’s Stop was immediately, almost fatally dated.

    The vestigial store on the side of Stage 14 started as an attached waiting area for the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. Two years later, when it became clear that guests needed more to do in the half-day park than just eat, the space became The Costume Shop. This is not to be confused with the Costuming Shop as driven through on the Tour. Between that conflict and the merchandise, the store was just as often called “The Villains Shop.” There was no better place to buy the latest in evil capes, hats, and accessories.

    The only thing that could defeat such powerful forces of darkness was synergy.

    In 1996, The Costuming Shop closed and a new marquee appeared beneath the sign, removable letters promising “Future Home of Ellen’s ‘Buy the Book’.”

    When Buy the Book opened on October 2nd, Ellen was two weeks into its penultimate season on ABC. The sitcom starred Ellen DeGeneres as the owner of a Los Angeles bookstore also called “Buy the Book.” The theme park version did not attempt a one-to-one recreation of the store, but a close-enough adaptation of the set. Instead of a ceiling, klieg lights dangled like electric stalactites. Instead of each wall showing authentic detail, everything “off-camera” was unpainted wood decorated only with Closed Set signs. But despite the fakery, it was an actual bookstore.

    Bestsellers, showbiz biographies, and cookbooks occupied the most shelves. Prominent authors stopped in occasionally for signings. For guests who didn’t want to spend their day judging covers, coffee and baked goods were in steady supply. It even had a secret weapon, a culinary specialty – the carrot cake cookie. Although that survives elsewhere, it’ll never taste quite so at home.

    Ellen’s Buy the Book became Disney’s Buy the Book in 1998, when the show ended. The following year it found a name that stuck – the Writer’s Stop. Every iteration was functionally identical, give or take a little extra theming or seating. This quiet, little corner stayed put for 20 years. In April of 2016, it reverted to a waiting area for the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. All the fixtures stayed, but snacks and bagged candy replaced the books. Anything fancier than drip coffee was dropped in favor of a beer menu. Finally, in September of that year, it was put out of its misery.

    Today, the vestigial store on the side of Stage 14 is occupied by the BaseLine Tap House. Weather eyes can still spot the building’s angled face, now covered with bricks.

    A more popular resident? No question. Tap House is busier than Writer’s Stop was on all but its busiest days. But a bookstore that was built as a licensed tie-in to a ‘90s sitcom, left to fend for itself once that show ended, and eventually lasted five times as long as its source material?

    That’s character you can’t build. That’s history you can’t make up.

    Endor Vendors

    Endor Vendors facade
    Image: Disney

    Endor Vendors had precious little of both when it opened.

    On May 1, 1989, the Disney-MGM Studios was a crown jewel short. Star Tours departures would have to wait until December 1989 at the earliest, already two years later than the California counterpart.

    When the construction walls first came down that September, all the franchise had to represent it was a gift shop. And that wasn’t just a Studio problem.

    It’s impossible to imagine now, thanks in no small part to the company that bought the franchise, but Star Wars was as close to dead as its ever been in the late ‘80s. Return of the Jedi concluded the trilogy in 1983. Power of the Force, a line of action figures marketed just to keep the brand alive, both came and went in 1985. Lucas’s rumored prequels were nowhere to be seen. Besides the Tours, the Wars were over.

    When Endor Vendors opened, it didn’t sell Star Wars toys because there were no Star Wars toys to sell.

    But the store did double as a great teaser.

    Freed of Disneyland’s real estate constraints, the Florida Star Tours got its own biome. Outside the soundstage where the next adventure is being shot – an added framing device dealt with in the queue’s first corridor – the forest moon of Endor stood ready for the second unit. An Ewok village shaded the extended queue. A towering AT-AT loomed in constant stalemate with pedestrians below. Early on, two screen-used vehicles, a snowspeeder and skiff from Jabba’s barge, parked in the foliage by its feet. It was a savvy design choice, ride narrative aside – Endor was the last planet anyone saw in that galaxy far, far away and now they could touch it.

    No such recreation would be complete, then, without the shield generator bunker climactically sabotaged by Han Solo.

    The familiar entrance to Endor Vendors lurked in an accidental clearing beside a felled tree and the speederbike that did it in. At the base of the crash, almost camouflaged into the bark, the store’s name was spelled out in spare parts, a crafty bit of recycling by the fuzzy locals.

    Any guest enticed by the façade or craftsmanship, in spite of any actual attraction, was rewarded with one of the richest treasure troves of Star Wars merchandise in the world circa 1989.

    In place of the now-standard toys, Vendors offered spaceship model kits and stuffed Ewoks. T-shirts came in every color but mostly starfield-black, adorned with the original 1977 font and title. Posters for the films, as well as Star Tours destinations, lined the metal-grate ceiling. Dummy heads wearing Don Post’s legendary line of masks were mounted above the register. For the business crowd, neckties were available with most of the major characters. The exit ramp at the rear of the store, unused at first, was flanked by a Stormtrooper behind bars and Darth Vader breathing under glass.

    Besides walk-around appearances from Chewbacca and assorted Ewoks, Endor Vendors was the only thing keeping the fire burning until Star Tours opened. When it finally did, the store became a chokepoint of frenzied commerce.

    Over the years, it grew alongside the franchise. Action figures returned with 1995’s Power of the Force line, not to be confused with the failed 1985 line of the same name. When Energizer sponsored the attraction, a hologram of its iconic Bunny kicked Vader out of his corner. And then, against all odds, Lucas’s prequels actually happened.

    On June 6, 1999, a month after the release of Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Endor Vendors closed for a drastic remodel. The floorspace was expanded, the exterior, rebuilt from scratch.

    Tatooine Traders opened on November 10th of the same year. Gone was the squat, gray bunker. In its place, Disney built a block of desert. To this day, the sandy fortress juts up against the forest it used to complement, across the sidewalk from a speederbike that used to have a busted twin.

    Besides the loss of the original’s thematic consistency and sight-only rhyme, Tatooine Traders was a practical improvement on Endor Vendors. Both have since been left in the creative dust by Galaxy’s Edge. But this gift shop used to be more than an obligatory exit past merchandise available in no fewer than five other, fancier gift shops. Once upon a time, it was a legitimate outpost, one of the last, for a saga more forgotten than remembered.

    Pacific Electric Pictures

    Calling Dick Tracy banner on Pacific Electric Pictures
    Image: Disney

    The case could be made that technology has rendered it obsolete, but this is as much about the spirit of Pacific Electric Pictures as it is the experience.

    As much it celebrated the off-camera art of cinema, Disney-MGM Studios was just as dedicated to minting stars and starlets. The magic of chroma key compositing wowed audiences across the park. Superstar Television used it to pit silly uncles against Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor in a hammer-and-nail race on Home Improvement. The walking component of the Tour, later split and christened Backstage Pass, inserted precocious volunteers into Honey, I Shrunk the Kids on the back of a runaway bee. The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular trained a fresh batch of background actors hourly.

    But if that still wasn’t enough auditioning for one day, guests could take home videotaped proof of their talent from Pacific Electric Pictures.

    The building on the corner of Hollywood and Sunset has remained more or less unchanged since 1989. Imagineers based it on the Ivy Substation in Culver City, a power store for the real Pacific Electric Railway. A logo for it – Pacific Electric: World’s Wonderland Lines – adorns the far side just above the address – 1928, in honor of the Mickey Mouse’s debut year. In the early days, the trolley car doors along the side were much more obvious, as was its stealthy tie-in. Not only did the Pacific Electric factor into the plot of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, one of the prop trolleys built for the film could be seen on the backlot. Had Sunset Boulevard been built as intended, as a Roger Rabbit land, the Pacific Electric building would’ve subtly pointed the way.

    All-in-all, classy digs for a notoriously, even proudly sleazy tenant.

    Banners screamed Open Auditions Today! The Pacific Electric Pictures logo, an old-fashioned camera slashed through with white lightning, promised quality.

    The owner, Louie Zirconium, did not. At the beginning of every $24.95 audition tape, he defined his personal creed as the exact opposite. It was easy to spot a Zirconium picture: “They ain’t gems – but they’re cheap!”

    Wannabes were put into ill-fitting costumes and directed by in-character crew members to goof off before painted backdrops, each representing a different genre. Neither the writing nor the end product held a candle to Universal’s counterpart, Screen Test Home Video Adventure, but the experience and its personalized merchandise felt like a natural extension of Hollywood Boulevard.

    Then it became a natural extension of Touchstone Pictures.

    In May 1990, Pacific Electric Pictures turned into Calling Dick Tracy, in honor of Disney’s go-for-broke blockbuster. Instead of auditioning for Westerns or war movies, guests acted their hearts out for a chance to don the banana-yellow trenchcoat. A seedy, comic-book back alley replaced the alternating backdrops. Naturally, the retail space was rededicated to the onslaught of tie-in merchandise.

    Though Dick Tracy did not make Disney go broke, it still fell well short of the studio’s Batman-sized expectations. Plans for a Tracy version of Sunset Boulevard, again making the Pacific Electric building a subliminal signpost, were scuttled. The casting call ended on January 12, 1991, just six months after the film premiered. A truncated version of the experience ran for two months following as Legends of Hollywood Screen Test, then closed for good in March.

    The combination attraction-store reopened as an ordinary store, L.A. Property & Storage, not long after. It wasn’t a scrappy studio anymore, but prop warehouse one bad sneeze from total collapse. The name changed slightly over the years before settling on L.A. Prop & Cinema Storage in 1997, as it stayed until closing in June 2014. It’s now the park’s Starbucks location, the Trolley Car Café, and realigned with its outer theme as a disused substation.

    This particular lost shop doesn’t inspire many fond memories simply because it didn’t last long enough to make them, souvenir tapes notwithstanding. The appeal of donning ten-gallon hats and riffing in front of a camera, on vacation no less, doesn’t hold the same novelty it once did. But it’s a lost grace note. Pacific Electric Pictures was a completely optional experience that lent texture to the Studios. It came at additional cost, but it wasn’t a triple-digit bill masquerading as an attraction, like certain workshops nearby.

    More than anything else, it let guests be movie stars in a park now entirely focused on making guests star in movies. A small distinction, but one worth remembering fondly.

    The Loony Bin

    Printed photo of the Loony Bin
    Image: Disney

    No Disney-MGM store is remembered more fondly than The Loony Bin, somewhat by force.

    The original Backlot Studio Tour was so long that it had a break area in the middle so guests could eat and nap. As is policy at theme parks, the Backstage Plaza came complete with a gift shop. There was no way to miss this one, but at least it was special.

    The Loony Bin was a love letter to Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The stuffed rabbits were just window dressing. The real star was the décor, done up like the ACME Warehouse from the end of the film.

    A conveniently labeled “Ton of Bricks” dangled overhead on equally concerning magnets. Cargo nets strained to suspend concrete elephants and cartoon cheese wedges the size of compact cars. Leering jesters and smiling balloons hung wherever was left. The only prop that ever fell was a safe, right onto the head of an unlucky chalk outline. ACME-brand crates piled up across the rest of the floor, each marked with matter-of-fact purpose. The “Miscellaneous” box played miscellaneous sounds when opened, the “Animal Noises” box played animal noises, “Toots” tooted, etc. Alas, innocent bystanders were not allowed to get at the Singing Swords or Blow-Up Carrots.

    Once the cacophony got old, shoppers could take their picture getting flattened under an errant steamroller or beside a Roger-shaped hole in the bricks. For a little extra, they could even cozy up to Jessica Rabbit in all her animated glory through the miracle of FotoToons technology.

    In its earliest form, The Loony Bin was absolutely stuffed with gags to spring and sights to see. The Toon Patrol truck last seen at the Backlot Express was first parked here. Two red halves of a Pacific Electric trolley poked out from a far end of the scaffolding. Until New York Street was made walkable, this was as close as visitors could get to Judge Doom’s Dip Mobile outside of a moving tram.

    It also, for however briefly, held a strange and unthinkable honor – The Loony Bin was the only place on Walt Disney World property that sold Warner Bros. merchandise. Bins full of plus Bugs Bunnies and Daffy Ducks waited beneath the watchful gaze of two glowing eyes in a crate marked “Tasmania.”

    That particular licensing deal did not last long and neither did the Backlot Studio Tour in its original state. Once it was divided into driving and walking halves, the Backstage Plaza lost all meaning and The Loony Bin opened to ordinary foot traffic. In December 1990, a playground was added, the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure. The ACME crates knew little peace.

    As the relevance of Roger Rabbit waned, so did the most obvious theming.  FotoToons lost most of its luster with the advent of Photoshop. The Dip Mobile drove away. The steamroller wasn’t far behind. A standee of Jessica Rabbit left her husband or at least his exit silhouette. The props overhead thinned out, some pushed into corners and others dropped entirely. Even the name dulled with age. By the end, in 2016, it was just called the Studio Prop Shop.

    But all was not lost. The concrete floor poured funny in the cracks formerly occupied by the steamroller and fallen safe. Behind two shelves, Roger’s literal mark survived on the wall. High on a crate-stacked catwalk, a Dick Tracy logo recovered from a New York Street marquee hid between boxes.

    Now the former Backstage Plaza is part of Galaxy’s Edge, impossible to match without a GPS or photographic memory. Though it was a shadow of opening day, the Loony Bin remained a relatively pure artifact of the era until it closed. All that’s left of Roger Rabbit, once the poster boy for the park, is Eddie Valiant’s office near Echo Lake and two very large footprints outside the Chinese Theater.

    AFI Showcase Shop

    AFI Showcase from above, circa 1996
    Image: AFI

    Disney’s Hollywood Studios has grown stunted by design. As a functioning production hub, it was built to change easily, even endlessly, but never take root. The first five years of park maps read like misprints laid out next to each other. One name might apply to three different locations in as many years, or one location might rack up three different names, two of which didn’t stick long enough for publication. It was a flex space built as such, first for filmmakers, then filmmakers and visitors, then only visitors.

    The AFI Showcase was born of and victim to the change.

    When the ambitious Muppet Studios plans were curtailed by Jim Henson’s death in 1990, the already-finished building for Swedish Chef’s Videocooking School was hastily repurposed as the Rocketeer Gallery. The space, conspicuously just across the plaza from Muppet*Vision 3D, displayed props and costumes from Disney’s 1991 would-be blockbuster. Like Tracy before it, The Rocketeer did not inspire audiences or a franchise, so the Gallery became the less-specific Studio Showcase.

    Mine carts from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom teetered mid-chase past animatronic animal heads from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Smashed Christopher Lloyd faces from Who Framed Roger Rabbit shared glass cases with troll heads from Ernest Scared Stupid. Most of the films that would belatedly define the early Disney-MGM years – The Rocketeer; Dick Tracy; Who Framed Roger Rabbit; the Honey, I… and Indiana Jones franchises – were well-represented in the Showcase.

    In 1994, the Studio Backlot Tour was rerouted yet again to a brand-new exit building. The Studio Showcase, both title and contents, moved to fill it, carrying over an exhibit dedicated to The Nightmare Before Christmas. The old location briefly became the nondescript Studio Arcade before the release of Toy Story turned it into Pizza Planet in December 1995.

    That same month, American Film Institute president Charlton Heston announced a partnership with Disney. The nonprofit organization would be sponsoring a remodeled Studio Showcase to rally funding for further film education and preservation.

    The new and improved AFI Studio Showcase opened in February of 1996 with 7,000 square-feet of mostly-new cinema history. Rocketeer costumes, a jacuzzi-sized shoe from Honey, I Blew Up The Kid, and a suspended speederbike survived, but were hopelessly upstaged by the staff from The Ten Commandments and the sled from Citizen Kane. The emphasis shifted to the sum of the art instead of its recent bubble-gum hits.

    When this Showcase launched, it celebrated each of its then-24 Life Achievement Award recipients, the latest being Clint Eastwood. Anyone thus moved by their work or AFI’s could purchase branded souvenirs in the Shop.

    More than they ever had at the former Showcase, exhibits rotated. Creatures of Distinction turned the spotlight to the Muppets in time for Muppet Treasure Island. Driving the Story made room for every kind of picture car, including a stunt car from Gone in 60 Seconds and a full-scale rover from Mission to Mars, Disney’s first attempt at bringing attractions to the big screen.

    The periodic refreshments slowed alongside production. In its later years, the Showcase settled into a standardized, museum-like presentation. The 2008 Villains collection told a familiar story a little too late. There was no way to get a picture of the original xenomorph suit from Alien without getting two of Susan Sarandon’s outfits from Enchanted in-frame. Leftovers from Disney’s almost-hits invaded once again, the contrast now sillier than ever.

    The Showcase’s last exhibit would be, fittingly enough, AFI’s anniversary piece – 100 Years, 100 Movies. Only the Showcase Shop got the hint – unsold autographs and memorabilia from Sid Cahuenga’s arrived in 2013, when that Studios relic landmark closed.

    The final collections of props, costumes, and behind-the-scenes was a lovely send-off. Wall-to-wall, glass-to-glass, it was all unbelievable, undisturbed history. An ax from The Shining. A lifeboat from Titanic. Michael Keaton’s batsuit. Christopher Reeves’s cape. A continuity script from Gone With The Wind. Storyboards from E.T. A bullwhip from Raiders of the Lost Ark, with live demonstrations still available across the park.

     The American Film Institute Showcase and Shop closed on August 18, 2014. The pieces were sent back to their respective collectors. The Sid surplus, along with all AFI souvenirs and most of the film-centric merchandise, went with the store. There was nowhere left to move it.

    Disney insisted this had nothing to do with any future closure of the Backlot Tour, but that only lasted another month. For the final Star Wars Weekends event in 2015, the former Showcase became Watto’s Grotto. The open floor plan allowed for an extensive, if strangely spread-out array of Episode VII – The Force Awakens merchandise. This temporary store lasted until April 2016, when the wrecking ball finally rose for the backlot.

    Now Star Wars collectibles are available parkwide. With the closure of the Turner Classic Movies-sponsored Great Movie Ride, however, there is no attraction or store devoted purely to the art of film.

    For 18 years, the AFI Showcase was both.