Discounts a perk for employees of the Smithsonian

September 2, 2012

Organization: Smithsonian Institution.

Location: Washington.

Employees: 4,000 locally.

On recent trips to the National Museum of Natural History, Hetty Lipscomb has made a detour to the gift shop. She’s purchased a dinosaur costume for her 2-year-old nephew and an outfit for her infant nephew that is decorated with a monkey’s face.

They may not have been the most practical purchases, but Lipscomb decided to spring for them thanks to a discount she gets as an employee of the Smithsonian Institution. She works as a development writer and editor at the Freer Gallery and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and like all her colleagues in the museum system, she gets 20 percent off at the museum shops.

“If I didn’t have the discount, I probably would’ve bypassed” the items, Lipscomb said.

The gift shops aren’t the only place where employees enjoy reduced prices. The 20 percent discount is also good at all the museums’ restaurants.

Maria Christodoulou, another staffer at the Freer and Sackler galleries, said the markdown has helped make the Mitsitam Café at the National Museum of the American Indian one of her regular lunchtime destinations.

The discounts have been in place for over 25 years, and Associate Director of Human Resources Greg Bettwy said they make the gift shops popular spots for employees to do their holiday shopping.

“It’s an important part of the way that we build our own work community here,” Bettwy said. “We’re family. So this is the family discount.”

Those who have young children are perhaps most likely to take advantage of one of Smithsonian’s more whimsical perks: free rides on the carousel on the National Mall.

Randall Kremer, director of public affairs at the Natural History Museum, said he regularly takes his 5-year-old daughter, Dorothy, for a spin. In fact, Kremer said trips to the carousel have been such a favorite for Dorothy that she can sing along with the ride’s music.

The rides only cost $1 for the public, but Kremer said it’s the principle of the policy that matters.

“What that really says is that we at the Smithsonian care about our families,” Kremer said.

Sarah Halzack is a reporter and Web editor for Capital Business. She covers the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She occasionally writes for other sections at the Post, most frequently in the form of dance reviews, dance features, book reviews and obituaries.
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