The Disney Store closed dozens of locations in 2021. Laid-off employees say they feel heartbroken, betrayed, and confused.

The Disney Store closed dozens of locations in 2021. Laid-off employees say they feel heartbroken, betrayed, and confused.
Disney Stores have faced difficulties since the start of the pandemic, according to the company.Ben Margot/AP
  • Dozens of Disney Stores are closing so that the company can "focus on its ecommerce business."
  • Insider spoke with five former employees who said they feel heartbroken after being laid off.
  • They also said they don't understand why Disney seemingly made this decision so quickly.

Angelica first visited the Disney Store as a toddler.

Her parents emigrated from the Philippines when she was young and she said they experienced "culture shock" during their early days in the US. But when they discovered the Disney Store, her family found a way to help themselves acclimate.
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If you've ever set foot into one of Disney's brick-and-mortar locations, it's easy to understand how welcoming the atmosphere can be. Music from Disney movies is played overhead, and employees greet you immediately. "Magical moments" are also common. The stores open with an interactive "magical ceremony" each morning, employees sometimes give shoppers free Mickey Mouse stickers, and more.
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"It was so much fun," Angelica, who is now 28, said of shopping there with her parents when she was young. "For them, it was a way to get me used to what life and people would be like here. For me, even at 3 years old, it was an experience that represented coming into a different kind of culture." She later went on to work at a Texas location as an adult.

But in 2021, the store where she worked and dozens of others closed so that Disney could focus on its "ecommerce business," according to a statement on Disney's website. Now, Angelica and other former employees - called "cast members" by Disney - say they've been left feeling heartbroken, betrayed, and confused after losing their jobs, seemingly out of the blue. Representatives for the Disney Store did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment on this story.

Four of the five employees interviewed by Insider asked to only use their first names in this story out of fear of retaliation. Another asked not to reveal the state she worked in due to privacy concerns. Insider knows the full names of the former employees mentioned, and the stores they worked in.
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The Disney Store closed dozens of locations in 2021. Laid-off employees say they feel heartbroken, betrayed, and confused.
The exterior of a closed Disney Store in California.Miko Marshall

Disney began to announce store closings on March 3

In a statement on its website, Disney said it would "significantly reduce its brick-and-mortar footprint, beginning with the closure of at least 60 stores in North America this year." The company had 300 stores worldwide at the start of 2021, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The change comes as a result of changing consumer trends and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Disney. Still, the company said that fans will "continue to have access to Disney shopping experiences" via theme-park stores, shops within other retailers - like Disney sections in Targets - and through "lifestyle and outlet locations."
The Disney Store closed dozens of locations in 2021. Laid-off employees say they feel heartbroken, betrayed, and confused.
Disney shared this message about its retail stores on its website.Disney
Former employees told Insider that they learned they were being laid off after store inventories were canceled, and conference calls were scheduled instead.
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According to a former manager named Meagan, the store she worked at wasn't on the initial list of closing locations. But when she was informed two weeks later that she had less than 12 hours to prepare for a conference call, she said she and other employees "had a suspicion" they were about to be laid off.

According to Meagan, employees were also told there could be "absolutely no cameras" on during the Zoom call. From there, she said they were given "generic" information about why their store was closing.

"We did ask for clarification; you know, 'Why us?'" she said. "But they said they couldn't tell us. They read the same statement they gave to the media, and that was pretty much it. Our liquidation materials arrived two days later."
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Miko Marshall, a 36-year-old former employee of a California store, faced an almost identical experience.

"We just sat there, muted the phone, and we all cried," she said of herself and former colleagues. "It was really heartbreaking, and it was like that for a long time."

Meagan told Insider that the closing process quickly became "a whirlwind," with employees being instructed to share only minimal information with customers about the closing.
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"We had almost a verbatim script of what we could and couldn't say," she said. "We could say our location was closing, and that they could continue to enjoy ShopDisney.com. But we could not say anything more. We couldn't share why, and we didn't know anyway."
The Disney Store closed dozens of locations in 2021. Laid-off employees say they feel heartbroken, betrayed, and confused.
A view of a California Disney Store as it liquidated.Miko Marshall

For many Disney fans, the stores are more than just places to work or shop

Marshall worked at the Disney Store for over 10 years before her location closed. She told Insider that it was her first job and that she was hired on the spot after stumbling upon the store in a local mall. In the years since, it's become her home away from home.

"We had become a family," she said of the people she worked with. "That's how it is for a lot of Disney stores. We do volunteer events together, we see movies together, we hang out. I always joke that I don't think I even have friends outside of work."
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That unique bond made the store closings even more devastating for Marshall.

"I walked into the store after the first closing sign was put up, and it just broke everything inside me," she said. "I was so upset. It felt so personal, even though I know it's not."
The Disney Store closed dozens of locations in 2021. Laid-off employees say they feel heartbroken, betrayed, and confused.
Miko Marshall and her family at the Disney Store she worked at before it closed.Miko Marshall
Former employees also noted that Disney stores are often the closest some fans can get to visiting a Disney theme park. Meagan, for example, described the locations as "a piece of Disney magic that you could have in your backyard."
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"We're far away from the theme parks, so the store was definitely the destination to get that experience when you couldn't go because of distance, money, or anything else," she said. "Now, I don't know what you would do. Target's Disney section I guess? But it's just not the same."

Even Raven, 36, who worked at a California store for nearly six years, told Insider that she was devastated to hear the news, despite having left the company in 2019. She said she "cried all day," and that her "heart broke" for everyone impacted.

Former employees told Insider they feel devastated and confused

Angelica said she'll miss her colleagues and having a Main Entrance Pass, which grants Disney Store employees access to all of its theme parks except Tokyo Disneyland.
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Meagan, on the other hand, told Insider she's sad to say goodbye to customers she came to know and love. The feeling was mutual, according to the former employee, who said some even left cards to let employees know "how upset and devastated they were."

Similarly, Marshall said it's the "magical moments" that she'll miss - so much so that she hasn't stepped into a Disney store since her former job closed. "It's still really emotional," she said.

"People would bring their kids to celebrate their birthdays," Marshall added. "Sometimes parents would have a scavenger hunt to let them know they're going to Disney. We've had marriage proposals in our store. It was amazing."
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But despite their fond memories, former Disney Store employees say that overall, they mainly feel heartbroken.

"I'm very thankful for the store and company, because it was a great place to work, and I hope I can work for Disney again," Alex L., 30, who worked at a Disney Store in Texas for 10 years told Insider. "But there's nothing like the store in San Antonio. It's been very difficult for all of us."

Meagan added: "I think a lot of cast members - whether they want to say it or not - are feeling like Disney has betrayed us a bit, and we don't know why. We're not going to get those answers."
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"Everyone is starting to get the feeling that nobody is safe, and that it's very likely there will not be any Disney Stores left," she continued. "As much as we all love Disney - myself included - it still feels like I got dumped."

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