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How it came to snow on Main Street USA

How it came to snow on Main Street USA

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During the 11 years she spent at The Walt Disney Company, Cynthia Harriss worked on an amazing array of projects. She helped grow The Disney Store chain from just 140 stores in North America to over 400. She also guided the Disneyland Resort through its $1.4 billion transformation, when this Southern California favorite went from being a single theme park to a two park, multi-day destination resort.

But if you were to ask Cynthia about her favorite time at the Mouse House, that moment when the Disney magic completely enveloped her … That would have been during the Fall of 2000. Less than a year after Harriss had been named as President of the Disneyland Resort.

“We were still a few months out from Disney’s California Adventure’s grand opening,” Cynthia remembered. “And at that time, a lot of people were postponing their trips to the Park. Figuring that they’d hold off on visiting Disneyland until after California Adventure opened.”

Portrait of Cynthia Harris, former President of Disneyland
Cynthia Harriss

At that point, Harriss and her staff knew that they had to come up truly compelling in order to get Southern Californians to return to Disneyland for the 2000 holiday season. Something special that would then make it worth their while to battle bumper-to-bumper traffic (Let’s remember that – at this same time – the 5 was right in the middle of its own multi-billion-dollar widening / expansion project) to come back to the Park.

“Now you have to understand that I’d only been on the job as President of Disneyland for a few months at this point. So I was still getting to know a lot of people that I was working with at the Resort,” Cynthia continued. “And I was sitting in this meeting, wondering aloud what we could do to get Guests to come visit Disneyland for Christmas that year. And one of the Operations people says ‘What if we could make it snow nightly on Main Street?’ “

Mind you, it had previously snowed on Main Street. But that was for a 1976 television special, “Christmas at Disneyland.” But in order to pull this effect off … Well, it had taken months of preparation as well as involving the efforts of dozen of people behind-the-scenes for just one night of filming. And what this Disneyland Ops official was proposing was a simulated snowfall that would happen several times a night from November 3rd through January 1st.

Snow White's castle in its winter lights
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“It just didn’t sound doable,” Harriss continued. “We were just weeks out from starting the holiday season at Disneyland. So I should have said ‘No.’ But something that I’ve learned from years of managing people is that sometimes you just have to trust your staff. Give them the chance to try. Even if it’s quite likely that they’re going to fail.”

Which is how Cynthia found herself inside of The Happiest Place on Earth early one October morning. Watching & waiting to see Disneyland Ops team really could make it snow nightly inside of that theme park.

“It was three o’clock in the morning. Except for the cleaning crews and the Cast Members who were restocking the stores, we were the only people in the Park. Just myself and some Disneyland executives,” Harriss recalled. “The Ops people were up on the rooftop fiddling with the equipment for what seemed like forever. And then – finally -- the snow started to fall.”

It even snows on Main Street in Disneyland

And as Cynthia and those execs stood in the dark on Main Street USA with those flakes drifting down, even though Halloween 2000 was still weeks away, Harriss found herself overcome with holiday feelings. More importantly, she instantly knew that Disneyland had a hit on its hands.

“Even in its rough, raw form, this effect was just so magical,” Cynthia said. “I knew that -- once our Guests experienced snow falling on Main Street – they’d immediately talk this up to their friends and family. Which would then make a trip to Disneyland a must-do for the 2000 holiday season.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Once word got about the snow falling on Main Street USA, Disneyland saw a healthy surge in attendance for that holiday season. And every year since, I might add. According to Disneyland’s own internal surveys, while Haunted Mansion Holiday, “it’s a small world” holiday, the Believe in Holiday Magic fireworks, Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle and A Christmas Fantasy Parade are all wildly popular with Guests … When asked what their favorite part of the Holidays at Disneyland was, most survey participants reportedly say that it was standing with their family members on Main Street USA and listening to “White Christmas” as the snow fell down on them from above.

Cynthia Harriss let Disneyland Operations staffers do the impossible and make it snow on Main Street in Disneyland

And this new Southern California holiday tradition only came about because Cynthia Harriss let Disneyland Operations staffers try and do the impossible. Which was to create a brand-new seasonal experience for Guests at that theme park on an incredibly short production deadline.

It’s just these sorts of stories that Harris now tells in her new role as a corporate presenter for the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. When – as she speaks at events like the Women’s Business Symposium & the Retail and Design Forum – Cynthia shares many of the lessons that she learned while working in the corporate world. How magic (or – at least – Disney magic) can sometimes happen when you trust the people who work for you.

Did you enjoy today’s holiday-related story? … Speaking of the holidays: If you’re looking to do some last-minute shopping on Amazon.com, before you begin bargain hunting on online, could you please click on the above banner?

If you do that … Well, then Jim Hill Media gets a teeny tiny chunk of whatever you spend. Which would be a very nice way to show your appreciation for all the great stories that you’ve read on this website over the past year.

Happy Holidays!

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  • This post was mentioned on Twitter by tvflte: RP-Jim Hill: How it came to snow on Main Street USA: Jim Hill talks with Cynthia Harriss, former President of the D... http://bit.ly/8VHiGh

  • So Cynthia presides over the demise of the Disney stores (by over expanding it) and Disneyland, but everything is OK because she allowed smarter people than herself to make it snow?!?

    WOW! I know I now believe that all is forgiven.

  • This seems to be the key to her career:

    “It just didn’t sound doable,” Harriss continued. “We were just weeks out from starting the holiday season at Disneyland. So I should have said ‘No.’ But something that I’ve learned from years of managing people is that sometimes you just have to trust your staff. Give them the chance to try. Even if it’s quite likely that they’re going to fail.”

    Except she was pretty good at giving the wrong people a chance to try. Stay far away, Ms. Harriss. And Merry Christmas in spite of your work.

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