Home » Exit Through The Gift Shop: 6 Lost Universal Orlando Stores With INSANE Backstories

    Exit Through The Gift Shop: 6 Lost Universal Orlando Stores With INSANE Backstories

    Quint's Nautical Treasures

    If the three-hour line just to see the inside of last year’s Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store is any indication, Universal Orlando gift shops have become attractions in their own right. But that reputation has been a long time coming. Since opening day, Universal Studios Florida shopping went above and beyond the call of duty, offering souvenirs in every shade of Highlighter on shelves pulled straight out of their respective movies. Complimentary shopper’s passes were even available, with a temporary deposit of one day’s admission, for guests who just had to go back for that Bates Motel soap.

    Unfortunately, contrary to what the billboards might have you believe, history is not Universal. There’s little official record of most of these stores. Early maps tended to leave out gift shops. The alliterative gold standards of printed-page travelogue – Frommer’s and Fodor’s – summarized Studio shopping in a paragraph, with only a few choice stores earning bolded mention. When vacation memories were still a tangibly finite resource sold by Kodak and Maxell, shelves of plush Fievels were not high-priority targets. As such, everything included below is cross-referenced between home videos uploaded to YouTube, unofficial guides from years past, and anecdotal experiences in these gift shops, personal or otherwise. Quality photographs of them are hard to come by, if they exist at all, so included are the closest viable alternatives.

    Quint’s Nautical Treasures

    Quint's Nautical Treasures
    Image: Flickr, user: Steven Langguth (docsdl); https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

    Though Universal Studios Florida opened as a functional filmmaking complex with the professional facades and pastel soundstages to match, it’s easy to forget the immersive land it had from the beginning – Amity.

    Instead of an urban composite, like New York and Hollywood, or a catch-all excuse for easy organization, like Expo Center and Production Central, Amity was themed to a single, fictional place, from the bathrooms to the chintzy games of chance.

    Its centerpiece attraction may not have lasted the park’s first summer or seen another rider in the three years thereafter, but there was still plenty to keep visitors busy during Amity’s perpetual Fourth of July celebration. One such quaint distraction was Quint’s Nautical Treasures.

    The green Cape Cod shack, dignified by a whale-shaped weathervane atop its clapboard crown, sat across town square from Dauntless Boatworks, the entrance to Jaws, and just around the corner. Judging by its early merchandise, before the ride was rethemed to separate local “fact” from cinematic fiction, Quint not only survived the Great White but decided to cash in on the experience.

    Amity aficionados could complete their VHS collection, from the 1975 original to the 1987 Revenge. Tourists too young for the movies, but old enough to appreciate a very large shark had their pick of stuffed, rubber, and plastic maneaters. Milton Bradley’s 1988 classic Shark Attack! was available for anyone ambitious enough to lug a board game around for the rest of their day.

    T-shirts came in all the house styles – a painted Jaws peeking over the neon marquee, a tye-dye outline of the shark against black, a more aggressively painted Jaws breaching a film strip – and prices rang up between LCD repetitions reminding shoppers what they were buying: SH-SH-SH-SH-SHARK!!!!!!

    Over its first decade, as Jaws transitioned from viable franchise to legend with three asterisks after it, Quint’s mixed in more authentically nautical souvenirs with the branded merchandise. Model lighthouses. Sea-shell necklaces. Tasteful Hawaiian prints. Even air plants that survived and thrived on little more than the ambient Florida humidity.

    In 2003, the original name of the store went the way of its Jaws ashtrays. Quint’s Surf Shack, as it was rechristened, sold the same beachwear that guests could just as easily buy at Ocean Traders in Islands of Adventure and any given Universal resort lobby. To its credit, the Surf Shack still did have a few more domestic offerings than its sister stores, like tiki bar necessities and the beachy kind of signage tailormade for suburban bathrooms.

    The structure remained the same, though it never bore any resemblance to Quint’s seaside shack from the film, until all of Amity closed on January 2nd, 2012. By early March, it was leveled.

    Today, a new standard of immersive theme park design stands in the sleepy little town’s place. Diagon Alley visitors can still spot references to the greatest Great White of them all if they know where to look. Though the lagoon was reshaped for its London makeover, nostalgic passerby can still stop and sit roughly where Quint’s once stood, on the park bench behind the Knight Bus.

    Ghostbusters Paranormal Shop

    Corner of the Ghostbusters Paranormal Shop
    Image: Flickr, user: Steven Langguth (docsdl); https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

    Not all early Universal gift shops benefited from such elaborate surroundings. Some didn’t even have a consistent name.

    According to the 1990 Universal Studios Florida souvenir map, it was called Ghostbusters Paranormal Merchandise. Most other media, from contemporary guidebooks to modern forum recollections, call it the Paranormal Store. The slime-green sign over both of its doors called it the Paranormal Shop, though, and that’s as close as theme park shopping gets to objective truth.

    After every performance of the neighboring Spooktacular, the Ghostbusters danced out with departing guests for autographs. Those who didn’t follow the khaki parade outside found themselves in an adolescent Ghostbusters fan’s dream come true.

    The Paranormal Shop’s stock-in-trade was Kenner’s Real Ghostbusters toy line. One entire wall was dedicated to action figures from the cartoon. Another was stacked floor-to-ceiling with accompanying Ecto-1s, Firehouse playsets, and significantly lighter Proton Packs that kids could wear in their pictures next to the real deal. As if kids weren’t already sold, a dramatically posed mannequin showed off the Nutrona Blaster’s uniquely squiggly foam particle beam.

    But there was more to the Ghostbusters than plastic. Universal-exclusive plushes of Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man joined ranks with equally huggable E.T.s. Spinner racks collected the latest issues of The Real Ghostbusters and Slimer from NOW Comics. Besides the remaining towers of No-Ghost coffee mugs and baseball caps, Universal Monsters merchandise rounded out the retail.

    The star of the store, though, was the theming.

    In one corner, another mannequin, this one modeled after Ghostbusters secretary Janine Melnitz, answered an unringing phone in a cinderblock set done up like the Firehouse basement. A properly grimy Containment Unit hung from faux cinderblock. Molded rubber ghouls nested on the power boxes and filing cabinets. Fold-out posters pulled from the comics dangled from every free surface. Stairs back up to a non-existent ground floor were littered with foam debris and more of the aforementioned ghouls. Not long after opening, a simple Slimer animatronic was added to the top, endlessly wiggling his stumpy arms and blinking his light-up eyes.

    The actual shopping fixtures continued the art deco design of the Spooktacular’s original preshow room, itself mimicking the look of Dana Barrett’s Central Park apartment building from the first film. Not that it was all uptown class – a column in the middle of the store was adorned with a massive holographic portrait of Slimer’s Spooktacular look.

    Even the window displays played along, with staged dioramas of jumpsuited dummies unleashing rope-light fury on painted flats of the attraction’s scariest spirits. It’s worth noting that these particular Proton Packs were unique, differing slightly in design from those carried by Universal actors. According to multiple visitors who asked, they were for sale. It’s entirely possible these inquiries happened to find team members with the same sense of humor, but they did have their story straight on the hypothetical price tag – $10,000.

    In 1990, Ghostbusters was riding a franchise high, if already starting to come down. Ghostbusters II was a hit, though not quite as big as anyone hoped. The smash-hit cartoon, whose voice cast provided the pantomimed audio for the Spooktacular, only had one season left. The toyline barely lasted that long. By the middle of the decade, most Real Ghostbusters branding was stripped from the store. Even the Janine mannequin was removed. In her place, a small TV played the decade-old original film on loop.

    The Paranormal Shop closed with the attraction on November 9th, 1996. Unsold merchandise was shipped to another store mentioned later in this list. The Ghostbusters continued to roam the park for years after, often in loosely themed tie-in with the Extreme Ghostbusters sequel cartoon, until 2005, when Universal let the rights lapse.

    In 2014, The Film Vault opened in the former Delancey Street Preview Center, just down the block from the former Spooktacular. The sign promises “Motion Picture Memorabilia” as sly code for its merchandise, all quietly tied to former Universal Studios Florida attractions. Ghostbusters is well-represented to this day.

    In 2019, right across the street from the impaled Firehouse façade, the Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store opened with an entire room lovingly dedicated to Ghostbusters, one of that year’s headlining haunted houses. The designers even managed to sneak in a few references to the franchise’s theme park past.

    Strangely enough, even though the Spooktacular soundstage was overhauled and eventually bulldozed for its successive replacements, the gift shops for both Twister and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon have occupied the exact same space as the Paranormal Shop.

    Bates Motel Store

    The Bates Motel and Psycho House
    Image: Flickr, user: Steven Langguth (docsdl); https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

    At least the Ghostbusters had a front window. Poor Norman Bates barely had a sign.

    In fairness, The Bates Motel Store was as much an obligatory gift shop exit as a post-show for Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies.

    Dubbed one of the first-ever “PG-13” theme park attraction in early press, The Art of Making Movies was, is, and may well remain Universal Studios Florida’s most adult experience. At least The Gory, Gruesome and Grotesque Horror Make-Up Show had blood and guts to keep the kids occupied.

    The Hitchcock tribute was just that, a museum-grade exhibition on the legendary filmmaker’s career. How did he safely drop Norman Lloyd off the Eiffel Tower in 1936’s Sabotage? What was the blood made of in Psycho? Can guests beat Jimmy Stewart’s record for spotting the homicidal husband in Rear Window? The Birds showed up for feathery vengeance in eye-popping 3-D, but that was just the candy-coating.

    It was so uniquely constructed as a theme park attraction that, save the two theater-based demonstrations, all the exhibits could just as easily be viewed by working backwards from the gift shop. Part of the retail space proper, the half toward Mel’s, was occupied by a small army of Hitchcock mannequins presenting a looped featurette on his infamous cameos. Curious browsers could pull up a director’s chair to watch or at least soak in the air-conditioning.

    Given the attraction’s de facto audience, the Bates Motel Store aimed a little above the Chilly Willy crowd. Visitors could collect an entire line of Bates-branded sundries, from soap to Do Not Disturb signs, for their own rented rooms. One hot ticket item was a shower curtain bearing the faint silhouette of dear old Mom holding a great big knife. For anyone truly captivated by the experience, Hitchcock’s entire filmography was available on VHS and, eventually, DVD.

    Dedicated cinephiles who already had their video collections in order still had plenty to appreciate. Taxidermied birds of prey stretched their wings over the shelves. The register doubled as the front desk, complete with keys hanging on the wall for every room except #1. Only the most seasoned Psycho fans knew which painting to push aside to find the Norman’s well-worn peephole.

    In 1990, Psycho was 40-years-old. The last Hitchcock movie, Universal’s Family Plot, was already pushing 15. It was only a matter of time before the attraction’s timelessness looked dated. A black-and-white clip of the man himself, pulled from an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, asked viewers in the far-off year of 2000 to write in about what future living was like: “I’m quite curious.”

    His attraction survived to see it, but not much of the millennium that followed.

    Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies and the Bates Motel Store closed without fanfare on January 3rd, 2003. Shrek 4-D soft-opened a mere four months later. The transition was so hasty, nothing was pulled out of the soundstage that didn’t need to be. The theater that originally projected 3-D birds now projected 3-D ogres, donkeys, and dragons. The Bates Motel Store became Shrek’s Ye Olde Souvenir Shoppe. Preshow begat preshow. But everything else in the building, including the Psycho stage and all special effects demonstrations, was left as-is in the dark.

    As lines wrapped around Production Central for the park’s newest star, the remaining space was gutted to add a second, slightly smaller theater for Shrek 4-D in early 2005.

    To this day, superstitious team members bid Alfred good morning and goodnight. Many claim he still haunts Soundstage 40, despite passing away a decade before Universal Studios Florida opened.

    In their defense, he does – even with the expansion, not every inch of the cavernous space was needed. So the rumors go, a spiral staircase from the original attraction still stands between theaters and pieces of the Rear Window apartment façade hide above Ye Olde Souvenir Shoppe.  

    If that’s not spooky enough for visitors in the know, they can always buy a brand-new Bates Motel robe at The Film Vault, right next to the Ghostbusters t-shirts.

    Second Hand Rose

    Delancey Street
    Image: Wikimedia Commons; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

    Where the merchandise of dearly departed attractions is now sold, a dearly departed store once stood.

    When Universal Studios Florida opened, the corner of Delancey and 7th Avenue belonged to Second Hand Rose. The name was a double entendre, both a reference to the 1922 Universal silent film and a hint at its wares. The store sold old, outdated, and generally unwanted Universal merchandise. But there wasn’t a whole lot of supply to meet that demand in the early years.

    Around 1994, in the groundswell of an unexpected Rocky & Bullwinkle resurgence, an athletic store based on the famous moose moved in. Bull’s Gym outlasted Second Hand Rose and even the neighboring song-and-dance show based on its cartoon source material. It carried the expected array of stuffed squirrels and sports jerseys, but sold some stranger keepsakes, too – a line of apparel based on the fictional teams from TV’s Coach sold well enough to warrant a headline in the Orlando Sentinel.

    Second Hand Rose was gone, though not forgotten. In 1996, Fotozine, a novelty photography service that put average joes on the cover of their favorite magazines, closed and a new Second Hand Rose opened in its place. The Fotozine sign still hangs where it always did, but the neon now says “Union City News.”

    With the benefit of time and a rapidly changing park, the relocated Second Hand Rose had much more stock on hand. Lesser-loved Real Ghostbusters toys warmed pegs past the grand opening of Twister, the discount getting deeper by the year. Leftovers from overblown marketing blitzes – 1994’s The Flintstones and 1995’s Casper, especially – made good-enough souvenirs for even the thriftiest vacationers.

    When 1999 rolled around and Universal Studios Florida became Universal Studios Escape, the resort-wide growing pains kept Second Hand Rose in business. There was no telling what the hot Islands of Adventure stuffed animal would be. Good news for the Cat in the Hat. Bad news for Hagar the Horrible’s extended family. Better news for Second Hand Rose, at least for a while.

    In 2003, Universal took a cue from the competition and sent its unsold merchandise elsewhere. Second Hand Rose became the self-explanatory New York Candy Co. until a more permanent replacement was worked out. Rosie’s Irish Shop opened in 2006 and endures as a catty-corner complement to Finnegan’s Bar & Grill.

    The Delancey Street Preview Center took over the Bull’s Gym space in 2005. Though the Film Vault overhauled the 7th Avenue entrance in 2014, an original sign for Bull’s still hangs off the South Street entrance.

    Second Hand Rose does live on at Universal Studios Japan, where the original façade survives on its original corner, though no t-shirt has ever been sold behind its windows.

    Universal Studios Outlets

    Inside Festival Bay
    Image: Flickr, user: LancerE; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

    Disney had been unloading its unwanted merchandise to local outlet stores for years. It was time Universal caught up.

    The first Universal Studios Outlet opened in Mall 1 of Belz Factory Outlet World on the north end of International Drive not long after Second Hand Rose shut its doors. The merchandise may have been familiar, but the volume was unprecedented. Like the two Disney outlets – Character Warehouse and Character Premiere – located elsewhere in the complex, the Universal outlet had space to spare. Older, weirder mementos mingled with the recently disavowed. PVC figurines of Beetlejuice in cartoon form, the show itself cancelled over a decade prior, could’ve been sold by the pound. Before it became a collectable tour-de-force, bits and pieces from Halloween Horror Nights, like a glow-in-the-dark Bill & Ted mug from 2001, showed up for pennies on the dollar.

    A second Universal outlet opened directly across from Disney’s Character Warehouse in the Orlando Premium Outlets near Lake Buena Vista. The difference in venue was night and day. Belz, which opened in 1990 only a few months after the Studios, represented the dream of ‘80s shopping. Indoors, air-conditioned, and above all inexpensive. Premium, which opened in 2004, was a prophesy by comparison. Outdoors, posh, and above all branded. The Universal store there was only a fraction of its sister store’s size due, in part, to management decree – Belz didn’t want major anchor stores, but Premium was dictated by them.

    By 2005, when Prime Retail bought the Belz complex, it looked like an antique. A massive two-year remodel turned the place inside-out. The newly rechristened Prime Outlets – International opened in 2007 as a near carbon-copy of the outlets down I-4, though it no longer had a Universal store.

    The Belz location closed in May of 2006 ahead of the demolition and moved across the street to the Festival Bay mall the following year.

    Look up the definition of “ill-fated” in any recent dictionary and a Festival Bay brochure should already be keeping the page.

    When Belz Enterprises grand-opened the 800,000-square-foot mall in 2002, it was an experimental extension of the company line. There were no traditional anchors or department stores. Instead, the heavy hitters were brands that toed the line between shopping and entertainment. Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. A Vans-sponsored skatepark. Signs promised a complementary “Surfpark” from Ron Jon for years, though nothing ever materialized beyond the usual Surf Shop.

    As luck and location would have it, nothing much else materialized past the anchor stores either. Smaller businesses never came and neither did shoppers, even though the outdoor mall across the street stayed busy. Ownership changed hands. Plans were announced and quietly recanted. When Vans pulled out in January of 2012, the writing was on the wall.

    Despite the steady decline, Festival Bay’s Universal store lasted longer than the smaller outlet at Premium, finally closing on April 30th, 2012. The entire complex didn’t last much longer. It’s $70-million rebranding as Artegon Marketplace lasted only three years, from 2014 to 2017. The latest attempt at resurrection, involving a classic car museum and apartment complex, has already endured one stop-work order from the city of Orlando.

    In 2010, Premium Outlets parent company, Simon Property Group, bought Prime Outlets, delineating the two near-identical shopping centers as Orlando International Premium Outlets and Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets, respectively.

    The Universal outlet at Vineland is now a Steve Madden store.

    There’s no middleman for unsold merchandise anymore – Universal sells it at cut-rate prices to annual passholders and team members during “garage sales” held on-property.

    Today, there is only one place in town outside resort bounds to buy Universal Orlando souvenirs.

    Universal Studios Florida Airport Store

    Universal Orlando Airport Store
    Image: Orlando International Airport


    The Orlando International Airport has always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Central Florida’s theme parks. What’s good for one is invariably good for the other. In 1990, after the one-two punch of Disney-MGM Studios and Universal opening, MCO added a third terminal for $130 million.

    Gift shops are just the inevitable byproduct.

    Disney had a presence at MCO long before Universal broke ground, but the new Studio in town came to play. The original Universal Studios Florida store at Orlando International was a loud, proud extension of the park itself.

    Travelers passing under the hot pink neon sign found themselves in a mall-scale recreation of the real thing. King Kong’s head busted through the carpeting, ruined airport trolley in-hand, to welcome shoppers with a mouth full of football-sized fangs. Sculpted dioramas for Earthquake and Jaws, smaller facsimiles of the billboards that long startled motorists on I-4, perched on Woody Woodpecker paraphernalia. E.T. and Elliott levitated over the glassware. An abridged Temple of Gozer took up an entire corner, complete with a lone Terror Dog and two anonymous Ghostbusters.

    And then of course there was the good old-fashioned stuff.

    The finest in theme park jewelry – No-Ghost wristwatches in bright purple, silver charms of Universal’s peanut gallery, etc. – shined in a circular glass case that doubled as the register. Posters were available for all the films represented. A dangling TV played Universal Studios Florida: Experience the Magic of Movies over and over again in hopes that somebody might spring for a copy with their souvenir booklet.

    The store carried just about everything that the emporium did, but with unmistakable, unforgettable style.

    Style, though, has a habit of changing. By the late 1990s, Kong got a facelift that squished him more conveniently against the wall. Doc Brown and his Delorean made belated appearances. Nickelodeon oozed in. Teasers for T2-3D and toys from The Lost World hinted at the massive changes to come.

    The original airport store faded away when the park became a resort. Riding The Movies was only half the fun. No reason the old guard had to take up all that space. Soon enough, one store became two.

    But the oversized characters never left. Now Optimus Prime and Harry Potter beckon the jet-lagged and just-leaving. Some still have their own little dioramas, like Blue the velociraptor and her electric fence or the Minions and their ambiguous machinations.

    The scope, scale, and personality still draw the people in. That’s still Universal.