Roxann Grzetich and her husband, Dave, have accepted a title bestowed upon them by their son: "Disney freaks."
How can they deny it? The couple from Chicago spent their honeymoon at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. They have sailed on all four Disney cruise ships. And last month they traveled to Anaheim to drop $5,000 on souvenirs of Disneyland's 60th anniversary celebration, including $175 on an illuminated Mickey Mouse figurine.
"It goes back to childhood," Roxann Grzetich, 62, a travel agent, said of her love of everything Disney. "Sitting in front of the television, watching 'The Mickey Mouse Club.'"
Walt Disney Co. can thank fans like Grzetich for generating an estimated $1 billion or more in annual merchandise sales at the company's theme parks. Disney pockets an additional $40 billion-plus from licensed merchandise peddled each year in retail outlets.
Now, with Disneyland's 60th shindig in full swing, the merchandising machine has hit overdrive with glowing mouse ears, crystal castles and other memorabilia.
Analysts say about 10% of Disney's theme park revenue comes from merchandise sales — twice the rate of other theme parks — partly because the company can create a bounty of products out of its titles from LucasFilm, Marvel Entertainment, the Muppets, Pixar Films and Disney.
"Disney creates so much content that if you wanted to collect just Mickey Mouse, you could fill warehouses," said Martin Lewison, a theme park expert and business management professor at Farmingdale State College in New York.
Disney's movie studios work closely with its merchandising division to come up new hats, toys and other items tied to movie releases.
"They don't make movies that can't sell consumer products," said Laura Martin, an analyst at Needham & Co.
Merchandise sales at Disney parks surge during special events because fans know that new souvenirs will be offered only on a limited basis, she said.
Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said merchandise sales are important but not the driving force behind events such as Disneyland's 60th anniversary celebration.
Iger attributed robust sales to the love that people have for Disney characters and stories. He said he bought a Davy Crockett lunch box on EBay a few years ago because it reminded him of the TV show he watched as a boy.
"Davy Crockett was an idol of mine," Iger said in an interview. "I remember as a kid having a Davy Crockett lunch box, and I had to have one."
For the 60th Disneyland anniversary, the company has produced more than 500 items; there are T-shirts for $20 as well as a crystal miniature of Sleeping Beauty Castle for $37,500. The biggest seller: glowing Minnie Mouse ears, which sell for $25 each, park officials said.
Disney has so many hard-core fans that the park regularly organizes sales of limited-edition merchandise.
Before the start of the 60th anniversary celebration in May, Disneyland offered collectors the chance to buy about 150 such products before they were put on sale in the park.
Each guest paid $100 to attend the event in the Disneyland Hotel's convention hall, where the souvenirs were displayed on long tables. In a side room, Disney staff rang up purchases and filled bags with shirts, hats, knickknacks, pins, plush toys and jewelry.
Disneyland declined to say how many attended.
Among them was Daniel Bowen, 48, a grocery store worker who has been an ardent Disney fan since he attended a high school graduation event at the Anaheim park in 1985. He spent $3,000 on items including special edition Mickey Mouse ears and collectible pins.
Bowen, a Sylmar resident and Disneyland annual pass holder for 23 years, said collecting Disneyland souvenirs brings back fond memories. "I would rather spend my money on Disney stuff than on a therapist," he joked.
The event was like a family reunion for many Disney-philes, who hugged and showed off their souvenirs. Die-hard collectors traded limited-edition Disney pins, which many wear on lanyards.
Rosalie Capparelli, 72, arrived at the sale pushing her sister Joan Moseley, 75, in a wheelchair. By the end of the day, the wheelchair was carrying bags of merchandise, worth about $3,000. Moseley, recovering from a heel injury, switched to a cane decorated with Disney characters.
"It brings us happiness because we share our things with others," said Moseley, who gives Disney items as gifts to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Moseley, who donned Mickey Mouse earrings, said her favorite find of the day was a crystal replica of Mickey Mouse ears for $65.
When her loved ones tease her about her Disney purchases, Moseley said she fires back with: "I'm spending your inheritance."
DISNEYLAND AT 60: