Curb Appeal

Welcome to the Museum Store

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Whatcom Museum’s galleries in the Old City Hall and Lightcatcher Building remain closed until further notice while the state navigates how best to reopen public spaces during the pandemic, but there’s at least one way to currently access the creativity that abounds in the downtown Bellingham campus.

Those who’ve strolled by the Museum Store at 250 Flora Street in past weeks may already have a clue as to what’s up. A “curbside pickup” sign affixed to the front windows isn’t advertising a pop-up restaurant, but rather pointing the way to the eye-catching and educational wares to be found within. Come closer, and you’ll find the windows have been artfully decorated to display an array of products designed to keep people interested in the world around them.

“I’ve just added a display featuring products from a company called Native Northwest,” purchasing specialist Stephanie Douglas says. “They source their designs from Native and First Nations artists and make everything from postcards to children’s books to woven blankets. Their tea towels and socks sell particularly well for us, and they have a variety of mugs and thermoses our customers really enjoy.”

Douglas, who’s worked for the museum since November 2019, says she’s had to rethink how to do her job since the shelter-in-place order shuttered the doors of the Museum Store in mid-March. One big obstacle was that they didn’t have a website where customers could browse and purchase items online. Undeterred, she gathered groupings of similar items and took photos to post on social media and the Museum Store webpage.

“I knew puzzles would be popular, and so far they have made up a vast majority of sales,” Douglas says. “But we have so many other great things, and you never know what someone might be looking for. So we have mostly focused on games, books, toys, journals, art supplies and greeting cards. But the first week of May I also created content with scarves, jewelry, tea towels and other items that made great Mother’s Day gifts. So it’s a mix of promoting items I know will be popular, and experimenting with featuring things like home decor or accessories.”

In the last two months, Douglas says community outreach has become even more important. Before, she was spending most of her time writing orders, bringing in new items, establishing relationships with vendors and merchandising the venue itself. Those duties have now taken a backseat to letting the community know the Museum Store is still a resource for them. Her days now regularly see her making window displays, taking phone orders, shipping packages and filming videos.

Since it’s a nonprofit, mission-driven store whose profits go back to the citizens via educational programs and exhibitions, Douglas says they’re not in service to a bottom line.

“The money you spend helps enrich your community every time you shop,” she says. “One of my goals has been to grow our selection of children’s books, games and educational toys since there’s not a dedicated toy store downtown. I actually rearranged the whole north side of the store to accommodate more kids items. I love when families come in and there’s something for everyone to enjoy—not just the grownups.”

Even though customers can’t browse inside the store for the time being, Douglas says she loves that she can still help people find the exact item they never knew they wanted until they saw it.

Among her current favorite treasures are prints and stickers by local artist Savannah LeCornu (keep an eye out for her linocut morels and mushrooms); a DIY wooden firetruck by Janod for ages 2 and older; Well Told drink ware including tumblers, water bottles and thermoses with maps of Bellingham neighborhoods engraved on them; high-quality Snifty pens adorned with rainbows, fake jewels and glitter; and Chavah’s Garden tea towels made in Skagit County.

Although there’s no set percentage on how much of the Museum Store wares are sourced from within the immediate area, Douglas she’s always able to find a variety of local merchandise and art by networking and doing a little research. She tries not to double up on carrying items that can be found in other galleries and shops downtown, but other than that she’s open to whatever creativity comes her way.

Since the store is prominently located at the front of the Lightcatcher Building and within sight of the stately Old City Hall, it’s also a natural place to show off goods that complement the installations. When people come to an exhibit, Douglas wants them to get the sense that all the parts are working together as a whole.

“We’re between exhibits in the Lightcatcher right now, but in the Old City Hall Building we have ‘Moving Forward, Looking Back: Washington’s First Women in Government,’” she says. “I’m supplementing that with a number of books like The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote and Why We March, which is a pictorial book full of protest signs from the Women’s March.”

While you can find these and other related products on the Museum Store website, Douglas says she’s looking forward to the days when people can step foot back into the shop.

“I’m just excited to feel the energy of people coming together as a community again,” she says. “Obviously, it’s not going to happen all at once, but even the smallest interaction can mean so much these days.”

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