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For Shopping, Disneyland Is Still Main Street, U.S.A.

April 01, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Well, would you look who's here? It's the folks from back East, here to enjoy some sun after a long winter. And after you've exchanged all the welcoming hugs and gone through the my-how-the-kids-have-grown ritual, guess where they'll want to go? Disneyland, of course.

It'll do you no good to suggest that they just go without you. They came all this way to see you , now didn't they? Don't bother explaining that you prefer to go in January, when the wait for Star Tours is only an hour.

But if you find yourself at Disneyland on a busy day, you can still enjoy the experience, even if you don't set foot on a single "attraction." As the many Orange Countians who hold annual passes can tell you, a day of shopping at Disneyland can be fun, relaxing and even productive. And you don't have to feel like a tourist: Mouse-emblazoned items are in the minority in many shops.

And if you haven't shopped there lately, you're in for a surprise. In the past few years, the selection and quality of merchandise has improved dramatically, with choices and prices to rival mall stores.

Payment options have broadened as well. Once upon a time in the Magic Kingdom, only cash or American Express cards were accepted for purchases although the Main Street Bank of America branch would cash checks. Now Mastercard and Visa are welcome in many parts of Disneyland (but be sure to ask before the sale is rung up).

Except for cold, rainy, off-season days, you will run into crowds here. But they can be avoided to some extent. All you need to do is figure out how the tourists think, then do the opposite.

Visit the shops when the out-of-towners are likely to be doing something else: during parades or mealtimes, for example. Stay out at all costs in the evening hours when they make most of their purchases.

If your arms get full, you don't have to haul everything out to the Tinker Bell section of the parking lot. Rent a locker for a nominal fee and stash everything there. Small lockers are at the Lost and Found next door to the Emporium on Main Street, and you'll find even larger ones just outside the exit gates near the parking lot tram stop (be sure to get your hand stamped and hang on to your ticket for readmission).

Come prepared, and you can avoid some of the impulse-buying that others find themselves doing. Bring a sweater to slip on after the sun goes down, and you won't find yourself the owner of a Mickey Mouse sweat shirt.

Main Street, U.S.A., has the most shops--22--of any of the various "lands." Many are connected by interior doorways, so that you can travel quite a distance up or down the street without stepping outside. This is where you'll find the greatest proportion of items with Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters on them, from jewelry to clothes to greeting cards, books and stuffed animals. Lately, these brightly colored items have been considered fashionable, and you'll find the latest styles at Disney Clothiers, Ltd., often months before they show up at local malls.

If you're really into Disney items, don't miss the Disneyana shop, which offers rare and not-so-rare items for the serious collector. For a few hundred dollars, you can take home a "cel" (an image painted on clear plastic) that was actually used to make a Disney animated movie.

The first archway on your left leads to Adventureland, with four well-stocked shops that add to the tropical theme. Adventureland Bazaar and South Sea Traders sort of blend into one large shop. Here you'll find kimonos for adults and children, Hawaiian shirts, tropical print dresses and the latest swimsuit styles and surf wear from makers such as Gotcha and T & C Surf Design. Prices aren't discounted, but they aren't unrealistic, either.

Next door, the Safari Outpost offers khaki and camouflage in the Banana Republic tradition. Across the way at Tropical Imports, along with plastic snakes and seashells, is a good selection of top-of-the-line stuffed animals (no mice or ducks).

New Orleans Square is the favorite of serious shoppers. The One-of-a-Kind shop is a great place to unwind even if you've no intention of spending "circa" $1,800 for that circa 1800 china cabinet. Regular Disneyland visitors can attest that the displays change constantly, partly because there are people who buy those pricey items. Disneyland and Disney studio employees often shop there, according to a clerk.

Down the street, Le Gourmet offers cookbooks, utensils and kitchen decorations--for $29.50, the ceramic garlic braid in the doorway could be yours.

Next door in Frontierland, you can finish furnishing your country kitchen at Davy Crockett's Pioneer Mercantile, where you'll find tasteful place mats, rugs and decorative items. If your kitchen decor is modern, you're out of luck here, but the wooden toys ($5 and up) and rag dolls ($4.75 and up) might make nice gifts.

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