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Universal Gift Shop Montage

If the three-hour line just to see the inside of this 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, were 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.

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