Coolest Thing I Ever Bought

August 31, 2015

I have to admit the gift shop is often my favorite part of most museums. As an avid art lover, museums are always on my agenda whenever I travel. For me, after spending several hours exploring a museum, the gift shop is often like dessert.  The gift shop is a little bit of sweetness that hits the spot after a hearty meal of museum fare.

There’s just something about the store in a museum. Even with all the work today’s museums have done to increase their interactivity, they still have the need to maintain their thousands of square feet of “look but don’t touch.”  So, as you admire masterpieces from several feet back, under the watchful eye of the security guards and docents, the museum shop is a welcome relief where touching is tolerated, and purchasing is downright encouraged.  It’s the one spot in the museum where you can leave with a piece of art and not get arrested.

Plus, museum stores are purveyors of the unusual, the eclectic, and often, the downright strange.  But that’s the appeal of shopping in a museum.  Where else will you find a turbine pizza cutter or alphabet blocks inspired by Charles Eames?

Museum stores often have tchotchkes that can have a local flair, like the little blue bear replicas of Denver’s I See What You Mean or the snow globe that features Minneapolis’s landmark, Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture.  And, the Shuttlecock mug from Kansas City’s Nelson Atkins Museum is a critical component of any worthwhile coffee cup collection.

Of course, Museum stores are virtually the only place to purchase special exhibit related items.  So after you’ve spent an hour and a half examining the Alex Katz exhibit at the High Museum or Light, Paper, Process at the Getty, you can purchase a book or other interesting item reflective of the exhibit you just visited. The store provides you the opportunity to own a reminder of a special exhibit that won’t make the rounds again for at least another decade, but I know that a huge book of full-color pictures will feel right at home on my coffee table, ready to refresh my memory.  And if I want to share a great exhibit with someone, I can purchase something special just for them in the museum store.

So, what was the last thing I purchased in a museum store?  It was a replica of a classic double lens reflex camera that also happens to be a pencil sharpener. This little beauty by Kikkerland looks right at home on the shelf with my other old cameras.  And when people ask where I got it, I tell them I found it on my last trip to Phoenix during my stop at The Store at the Scottsdale Performing Art Center.  It might be the goofiest thing I’ve purchased in a long time, but it’s also the coolest.


Steve White is a freelance writer and entrepreneur living and writing in Denver.

2 replies
  1. Nancy says:

    I would like someone, anyone, to point out to these writers that are posting on the blog of the Museum Store Association that we are an affiliation of museum stores, NOT gift shops or gift stores. We are not the Gift Shop Association! What we call things and label things is important. Museum stores are unique, eclectic and sophisticated; gift shops just too closely associated with the bad merchandising of airports.

  2. Anna Hopkins says:

    I am happy to have my “Museum Store” be referred to as a “Gift Shop” and I try to make shopping in it an enjoyable experience for all. I’ve been to “Museum Stores” that were stuffy and overpriced and uninviting. The term “Gift Shop” does not conjure up negative images or thoughts of airports for everyone.

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