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Disney opens its first store in the inner city

The Walt Disney Co. opened its first inner-city Disney store on Friday, a reflection of a corporate commitment to assist rebuilding efforts in the wake of Los Angeles’ civil unrest.

The new Disney Store at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall, the company’s 184th, was built in less than six months — significantly faster than the usual time Disney takes to open one of its retail establishments. Manning the store are 26 clerks (in Disney parlance, “cast members”) and four managers recruited from the local community through an outreach program in association with Rev. Cecil Murray’s First AME Church.

Although the mall’s Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw neighborhood is a prosperous African-American neighborhood, the location is a departure for Disney’s fast-growing retail chain. To date, Disney Stores have opened in upscale, suburban and largely white neighborhoods.

Director of public affairs Dan Wolf said the company has no plans at this time to open other Disney Store outlets in other urban neighborhoods. But if this location proves successful, Disney may consider it. “I guarantee you (the company might) if it turns out to be one of our most successful stores,” he said. “We’re not stupid.”

The Disney Stores have been extremely successful with sales running about three times the national average for specialty retail outlets. Wolf said the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall was not part of the company’s standard business plan, but Disney expects it to be profitable. “We have no reason to think it will not perform like our other stores,” said Wolf.

If Disney were to venture into grittier urban neighborhoods, it would mean the company would have to open a free-standing Disney Store, something it has not done previously. The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall is the nation’s only fully enclosed inner-city mall.

The store opening is the direct result of the work of a Disney company task force formed after the April 26 to May 1 riots. Under the orders of chairman Michael Eisner and president Frank Wells, the company formed this special committee to consider ways Disney could contribute to the rebuilding of the city. The idea of opening a Disney Store in the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw area — site of numerous fires and looting during the disturbances — was taken to the First AME Church’s Murray.

The Disney Store clerks came from some 460 applicants recruited with the help of Murray’s church.

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