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Hollywood Studios gift shop montage

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.

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