Connected \\ December 13, 2022
How Museum Shops Help Build Community, One Block at a Time
A museum store is the perfect vantage point to witness all the upkeep required for a museum the size of PEM. After all, most of the museum community converges on the store at some point: staff, artists, executives, and more. It’s the perfect meeting place to casually learn what people are working on at any given moment, and to be reminded of the work that goes into maintaining the organization's high standards.
These conversations make me consider the complexity of creating an experience that stimulates all five senses for our visitors. On my short walk to work, I appreciate the trees the museum has planted on Brown Street, the museum gardens and the preservation and landscaping of our historic homes. Then, I walk through Armory Park with its ginkgo trees, and onto Axelrod walkway, which is always manicured to perfection.
PEM’s Axelrod Walkway with The Blue Trees, created by Konstantin Dimopoulos and painted by a team of volunteers. The temporary work compels us to take notice of these otherworldly trees and prompts a larger conversation about the role of trees in our local environment and the planet. The eco-friendly blue paint will wash away over time, and the trees will gradually return to their natural state. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
Around the corner, I recently encountered the maintenance crew hoisting a glass roof to winterize Yin Yu Tang. The Pickman House across the street is also maintained by the museum, along with the green spaces in the memorial park.
The Pickman House beside its miniature replica, decorated for the holidays and available alongside other PEM properties at the shop. Photos by Kathy Tarantola (L) and Liam Bostick/PEM.
All of that effort, and I am still outside the museum! Standing in the atrium makes me wonder how the vast glass roof and galleries stay so clean, when I can't even accomplish that level of detail in a condo. And that's just maintenance: There’s also the intricacies of exhibit planning, curation and education, to name a few. And don't even get me started about our Collection Center, an ark of preservation that assures our massive collection will be accessible now and in the future.
So how does a museum shop fit into these marvels? All of the proceeds from shop sales go back to helping the museum accomplish its goals, from educational programs to spruced-up gardens. Not all museum shops can boast that 100% of the proceeds help fund the museum's mission — but the PEM shop can. Some museums contract with outside retail companies to run their stores, so you may want to ask how much of your purchase supports the institution when you visit a new museum.
The holiday house blocks in the Shop with a map of the PEM Walks experience. Photo by Dinah Cardin/PEM.
Walking around the PEM campus has inspired me to work with Cat’s Meow Village to create miniature wooden portraits of all of PEM’s historic homes. For the holidays, we asked the company to create decorated versions in their classic block style. You can take a walking tour (or a virtual one) of the houses by using the QR code on the back to access our award-winning audio series PEM Walks.
PEM’s Gardner-Pingree House dusted with snow beside a holiday-themed Cat’s Meow model. Photos by Kathy Tarantola (L) and Liam Bostick/PEM.
And if you have yet to stroll by, please check out our new show windows at 179 Essex Street. This year’s snowy Salem village includes the holiday block versions of all the PEM historic properties, along with a chugging model train and a few animal surprises.
Windows at 179 Essex Street. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.
While visiting the windows, you’ll see a reproduction of the old Salem Depot. The larger of two sizes is a limited edition, so come on in and grab a little piece of Salem history while they last. It’s the perfect gift for model train enthusiasts and is designed to allow a train set to run through the station.
And please consider that when you choose to buy a book or gift in a museum store instead of from a large online company, you're choosing to support an institution that provides enriching experiences. Shopping local is essential to supporting the local economy, no matter which great Salem business you choose to patronize. Purchasing a book in a local bookstore, like the fantastic Wicked Good Books, or buying gifts at Salem businesses like Roost and Company or Emporium 32 (all of which I highly recommend), is a choice to support independent businesses, their families and their employees.
So, to all our loyal customers and visitors considering the PEM shop for your holiday gift giving: THANK YOU! We appreciate all of you and value the ongoing support your purchases bring to the museum. Next time you walk by one of our great open spaces around Salem or enjoy an exhibition, you can think, “I helped make that possible!”