Year after year the Smithsonian has been capturing the time and imagination of millions of visitors who flock to its 11 museums (seven of them on the Mall) for capsule lessons in history, science and the arts. For the last five years or so, it has also been capturing the pocketbooks of many of these visitors with a new breed of store known as the "museum shop."
Far removed from the tacky souvenir-hunters' traps that many museum shops are, the 10 Smithsonian museum stores place a strong emphasis on quality as well as on affordability. The shops have been redesigned -- at the personal direction of Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley -- to carry merchandise that directly reflects the exhibits and collections of each museum. In other words, museum shoppers won't run across stuffed dinosaurs at the Air and Space Museum or model airplanes at the Renwick. The Smithsonian also has an obligation, explains director of museum shops James Chmelik, "to let people take a little piece of education home with them, and not leave it all here," which is the guiding purpose behind the revitalization of the shops. This new specialization in turn has given each store its own flash of personality -- from the space-age sleekness of the Air and Space Museum shop to the Victorian flavor of the Arts and Industries shop.