Attention all Disneyana collectors! Located just 30 minutes from Walt Disney World is an amazing Honey-Hole of Disney collectables all under one roof. If it is Disney you want, Disney is what you will find. Virtually anything Disney can be found here, from one-of-a-kind items, retired items, signs, posters, figurines, etc. I would have to print a catalog to list everything available. But the story behind this remarkable store is a magical as the merchandise is sells.
The owner of Theme Park Connection is Mark Pianko. This soft-spoken man is a reservoir of Disney knowledge. He took time off to speak to me about his store and how it all began. Mark has been collecting Disneyana for over 15 years, and he has loved Disney all his life.
He said, “I had all the Disney toys growing up, it’s been a part of me all my life. When I was born, my parents had my nursery themed to “Bambi.”
His first trip to Walt Disney World was in the 6th grade, and he said, “I instantly fell in love with the magic of the Parks.” His favorite attraction was Figment, and he still has the picture he took with “Dreamfinder”
Mark always looked forward to his next Disney trip. Born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, he was in college when he realized he wanted to work for Disney, so in 1999, he moved to Florida to work for Mickey. He was finally hired as an institute logistics coordinator for the business programs, and Mark said he learned much about the Company and its workings, he said.
“It was a fantastic job,” he said.
It was here at Disney that he started to seriously collect Disney memorabilia, but he had started back in college.
“I would go to garage sales, buying and selling collectables at flea markets, I made good money,” he said.
After moving here and working for Disney, he discovered EBay, and at the time the Disney pin trading craze was in full swing, they were great sellers, and soon he discovered other Disney collectables sold well also.
As he did in college, Mark plied the Flea Markets and garage sales, buying more Disney, and as a Cast Member, he got a chance to procure more and more collectables. His EBay business was doing very well, and he decided to leave Disney in 2006, because he said, “I wanted to buy and sell Disney items. It was my passion and I wanted to do it full time.”
As his collections grew, his home was soon overrun with memorabilia. He would sell some, but ended up buying more! It was when he got married that he realized that he had to move much of the merchandise elsewhere. It all ended up in five storage sheds. This solved his clutter problem, but Mark realized that nobody could see and enjoy his acquisitions. He made the decision to open a store, working out of his house. Doing business out of his house, Mark developed many contacts and the store was doing well. The business had three names, “You happy collecting”, “Sell and Ship” and “Theme Park connections.” It was with the Sell and Ship that Mark would take in consignments to sell on EBay. But this was a complicated process and even thought the business did well, selling many different items, he decided to concentrate just on Disney.
This decision was made in 2009 and that is when the name changed to “ThemeParkConnection.” It was in that year, his good friend and fellow collector, Brian Ramsey came to work for him. Brian is also a very knowledgeable Disneyana expert. He is Mark’s main contractor and buyer and helps run the store. As business expanded, Mark realized that a larger facility was needed. In January of 2011, at their present location, they rented out 3,000 square feet just to get the merchandise out of the house and the sheds. Staying with EBay at first, the building was still too small, and merchandise was crammed all over. He hired another employee to help.
It was in October of 2011, he decided to do a grand opening of the store; they send out a media notice and spend several weeks getting the area to look like a store. They rented an additional 1000 square feet before the opening. At the opening, there were two television stations, several newspapers including the Orlando Sentinel, bloggers and many media outlets. More than 500 people showed up. It was an enormous success and the business just skyrocket after that. Mark rented two more bays in the same building; the store now encompasses 8,000 square feet.
“The store concept is just about a year old. We went from three employees to the present seven. But we have nowhere else to go in this building. I am always thinking about moving into a bigger retail spot,” Mark said.
I asked if he had a favorite piece.
“My favorite pieces are Figment items,” he said. “One is an original Figment attractions sign that pointed guests into the original attraction. It’s hard being a collector in the business because of the emotional attraction to some items.
I also inquired about the most popular items.
Without hesitation he said The Haunted Mansion.
“It has one of the biggest cult followings.”
The biggest item in the store is actually outside the store. A Horizon’s underwater Sea Spacecraft sits out by the front door, and there is a boat from the Yacht and Beach club inside with a Captain Mickey plush inside.
I also inquired about how they price their items.
“We price our items by experience,” Mark said. “Brian and I have been in the business over 15 years, buying and selling Disneyana. We don’t want to be a collectable store with such high prices that people won’t be able to afford anything.”
Over 90 percent of the items here are priced less than Disney and many are retired, no longer available. Mark and Brian still attend flea markets, garage sales and buy and trade items as they come in the store to keep inventory current and fresh. About once a month, they will take a major trip around the country, looking for items.
First time shoppers upon entering will note nothing especially outstanding, a small ante room with pins on the wall and several display cases. Beyond is a larger room with books, posters and other items. But when they enter the main warehouse area, this is when the “Wow” factor kicks in. From floor to ceiling and in the isles, there is literally no space that does not have something Disney on it or hanging from it. From posters, props, attraction items, snow globes, figurines, wardrobe and everything in-between I could not even begin to list everything here! This is a Disney attraction by itself. This is the place to buy, sell or trade your Disneyana items. And the best part is that you have two Disneyana experts on hand to help evaluate your piece and in the process, you will glean invaluable information and become a better collector.
I was curious about the most expensive item in the store.
“We have a Disney Carousel Horse from Disneyland, its estimated value is between $20,000 and 30,000 dollars,” Mark said.
Although Mark deals primarily in Disney, they have merged into movie props. Items from “Titanic “and even other theme parks, like Universal can be had.
“We want to offer a broad selection” Mark said. ‘But we don’t get many calls for it. It just does not have the Disney cult following. Certain items from “Harry Potter” and Universal’s “Halloween Horror Nights” sell, but nothing we would ever focus on.”
.The store is open 10am to 4pm, Monday through Fridays, and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2pm. They will buy between Monday and Friday, business hours. You can contact them in person at 1307 Green Forest Court, unit 110 in Winter Garden Florida, 3487. The store is located right off of State road # 50. Call them at 407-284-1934, or Email at Disney@Themeparkconnection.com and of course their website, www.Themeparkconnection.com. The site has a form to fill out with your entire item’s information. At the present time, the site is a link to EBay where you can view the items, but Mark said the next move is a direct link to the store’s items, so you can purchase direct online. I strongly recommend a visit to this unique and one of a kind store. Even if you are not a collector, just to browse is a treat in itself. I cannot wait to go back and see what other treasures they have accumulated!