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'Museum Store Sunday' seeks spot between small business and cyber shopping days

Holiday shoppers know about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Now, museum stores in the Baltimore area and elsewhere want a day of their own.

Shops attached to art and history museums, botanical gardens, science centers, zoos and other cultural institutions will encourage people to visit on Sunday as part of “Museum Store Sunday.”

The idea came about more than two years ago when the Museum Store Association wanted to publicize the stores’ offerings during the holiday season. The museum shop event, underway on the Sunday after Thanksgiving for the second year in a row, aims to remind consumers they can support the attractions’ missions and operations while snagging unique gifts.

“No one had claimed Sundays,” said Alice McAuliffe, manager of retail operations for The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and a former association board member. “During the holidays, museum stores have great unique merchandise that you can’t always find other places. … It’s just a way of saying, ‘Hey, support your museums in your areas.’ ”

This year, more than 1,000 museum stores in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and 13 countries will join in, with most offering specials such as discounts of 25 percent on a range of items — books, jewelry, home accessories — most curated to reflect the particular institution.

In the Baltimore area, the Walters, Historic Ships in Baltimore, Maryland Historical Society, Laurel Historical Society, Historic Annapolis Museum Store and Annapolis Maritime Museum are participating. Other well-known museums include The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim in New York, the San Francisco Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery and the National Building Museum in Washington.

Sales at the Walters’ shop doubled last year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, compared with that Sunday in 2016, McAuliffe said. The shop plans to offer discounts of 20 percent for museum members and 10 percent for non-members. The boost in traffic also led to increases in museum memberships, she said.

“They not only came to shop, they came for the museum,” she said. “Part of the mission was to promote the museum overall.”

At the Walters’ shop, customers can choose from children’s art activity kits and books, wool scarves from Ireland, books on art, artists and art movements and travel, merchandise such as sushi sets related to a Japanese print exhibit and other items.

During the event’s inaugural year, which featured 700 museums in 10 countries, stores averaged a more than 30 percent jump in visitors and a more than 60 percent increase in net sales, compared with the Sunday after Thanksgiving of the previous year, according to the museum association. Museums benefited too, with a 37 percent boost in visitors, said the group, which represents museum store buyers and managers.

“A lot of people don’t realize all the profits in our museum stores go back to support the programs and operations” of the museums, said Susan Tudor, the association’s first vice president and a manager and buyer for the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Fla.

Tudor expects the museum store movement to catch on and grow. The U.S. group has backing from the United Kingdom’s Association for Cultural Enterprises and the Museum Shops Association of Australia and New Zealand.

“There’s more interest in purchasing items that have longevity, that have quality, that are unique,” Tudor said. “Museum stores are known for that. This is a reminder to go back into the museums and shop there.”

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