When you walk into the Universal Legacy Store, you are quite literally embarking on a walk down memory lane.
The new store, which opened recently in Universal CityWalk at Universal Orlando Resort, is full of homages to attractions over the 31 year history of Universal, props and photos from throughout the years, and plenty of incredible Universal Orlando merchandise.
I recently had the chance to talk with Rob Cametti, the director of visual merchandising and store design for Universal Orlando, who shared with me some behind-the-scenes stories from developing the new store.
KATIE: First off, can you tell me a little about what your title means?
ROB: In a nutshell, it’s everything you see on the inside of a retail location that isn’t the actual merchandise. So that’s store fixtures, window displays, lighting, mannequins, props, graphics, signage, seasonal decor — all of that falls under us.
KATIE: So how does it work with the merchandise team when you’re developing a store?
ROB: At the end of the day, we are a support team and we are supporting the merchandise division. So we meet with the product developers and we say, “OK what is coming down the pike and what can we do now to make sure we’re ready for you?”
KATIE: How would you describe the creative process you and your team go through when developing these stores?
ROB: We find inspiration pretty much everywhere. I just see stuff out in the marketplace or online — I’ll see things just in everyday life that I’ll say, “I don’t know what I’m going to use that for, but I’m going to.” So I’ll sort of put it in the back of my head for future use. It’s funny because I’ve been at Universal for 21 years and I remember when we’d tear things out of magazines and keep them in a book for inspiration. Now I just snap a picture with my phone and file it away. I’ve also been very fortunate to build a team of crazy talented, creative people. That’s another inspiration for me — setting them loose and seeing what they come back with.
KATIE: In what ways have you seen your role and merchandise at Universal evolve over the years?
ROB: It’s changed so much over the last 20 years. It’s all about the convenience of acquiring an item and there’s really not much of a reason to go into a store anymore — especially with this last year with curbside pickup and delivery. I think that mindset spreads into our park because many of our items can be bought online, so someone may wonder, “why would I take the time from my day at the park to shop?” And so then our job becomes providing them with a unique experience that goes beyond just shopping to acquire items. We’re getting folks through the door looking for the same level of themed experience they find throughout the parks.
KATIE: And how did that come to life with the Universal Legacy Store?
ROB: It’s an interesting road that led us here. We had learned in previous years that the Tribute Store, with things like Halloween Horror Nights and Mardi Gras, does really well. So when we got word in early 2020 that we were temporarily closing, we said, “OK let’s get going on our next version of the Tribute Store.” And the theme of that store was going to be the 30th anniversary of Universal Studios. My team starts cranking on that store and we’re all set to start loading things in because in our minds, the theme parks were going to be closed for a week or two and then reopen!
KATIE: I think we all thought that! We had no idea.
ROB: Exactly, so when we found out the theme parks wouldn’t be opening again until June, that just put us too close to when we needed to get started on the Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store. So we never got to open that 30th anniversary store. But we loved the concept of it as this prop warehouse with all sorts of pictures and designs and items from the last 30 years. We kept the idea in our back pocket. Then when plans started for the new Universal Store in CityWalk and we knew that we actually had two stores now that we could operate and they needed to be different. So we were like, “We get to do the 30th anniversary of Universal Studios store concept!”
KATIE: That’s awesome, I love that you guys got to salvage that idea! What did the actual process look like to get us here?
ROB: Well what we ended up doing was — there’s a lot of people on property like us who love the history of Universal. We’re all fans, that’s why we work here. There are things that teams have developed, used, built in the past that are no longer used in the park but hold value — whether it’s emotional or monetary — they’re valuable so people have kept them in their office or in a warehouse. My team reached out to several partners, we knocked on doors, we visited offices, and we said, “Look, there’s a reason you held onto this stuff and we feel like we’re finally the reason because we can bring this out and show guests and let them enjoy these items you’ve archived and rescued.”
KATIE: I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet — what kind of stuff did you end up being able to pull together?
ROB: There are so many really authentic items in there. There are actual moquettes from some of the rides we’ve done that people aren’t going to believe they still exist. There’s a moquette from the ET Adventure ride vehicle, which is our last remaining original ride. I mean who would have thought that an original moquette still existed, but it’s there in the Universal Legacy Store for people to see. There are other props and authentic items from several of our attractions and there’s a ton of photography in there. Construction photos, schematics, behind-the-scenes stuff we pulled.
KATIE: What do you think the future of the Universal Legacy Store is?
ROB: Our legacy is not going away; it’s forever. This store could live on and change with our resort. It has a future — I don’t know where it is or when or how, but it’ll stick around in some form. Our history is valuable and important and it has a strong connection with our guests. I’m glad we get to embrace that with this store.
What’s your favorite part of the new Universal Legacy Store in Universal CityWalk? Let us know in the comments below!