More museum retail on the canal?

August 17, 2010
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In this week's print edition of IBJ, reporter Kathleen McLaughlin writes about the efforts to convert White River State Park visitors and canal walkers into museum visitors. (The story is available to subscribers here.)

She reports that, while the park is becoming more popular, the Eiteljorg, the State Museum, the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Indiana History Center aren't having much success in turning its visitors into ticket buyers. The Eiteljorg, for one, will be addressing the issue by enhancing its canal-side entrance.

The article also brings up the lack of retail and restaurants along the canal.

To me, those two matters come together to raise a question: Wouldn't it enhance both the canal-strolling experience and the institutions' bottom lines if they positioned their gift shops--or created additional retail options--at their canal entrances? I understand free-standing retail being cautious about locating on the canal, but these institutions already exist--and they already have the goods.

A family out for a recreational day at the park might not want to plop down money for museum admission. But I'd think they'd consider wandering into an interesting shop (and our museum shops are among the most interesting in the city).

Of course, once someone has visited (and spent money at) a museum's shop, I'd think that person would be more likely to pay a visit to the actual institution at a later time.

Your thoughts? What are some practical things that the canal museums and attractions can do to get more patrons through their doors?

  • wasted potential
    i have visited other canals in San Antonio and Orlando of course the weather is better but these other canals used there canals a draw to all groups and ages to use. they have restaurants, resorts, concerts and stuff to do for all ages. after you walk on the canal and paddle boat what is the reason to come down there. the powers that be were in such a rush to get the tax revenue from jobs and real estate taxes that they didn't think how boring it would be if they put what they put next to the canal and now it is one big liquid alley. if that wasn't the canal we would call it an alley for the backs of the buildings along it. this describes the way things get developed here. great potential horrible implementation.
  • beautiful place for a stroll
    To Peabody: A "liquid alley" sounds kind of interesting -- although I know you meant it in nothing but a derogatory manner. The canal is for the most part, a beautiful place. It could use more restaurants and retail, perhaps -- but I don't know that there are the crowds yet to keep more restaurants busy. Most people seem to just enjoy the place for running, biking, strolling, paddling, etc. A few museum shops sounds like a good idea. Continued residential and hotel development nearby would undoubtedly help. Finishing up the Cultural Trail connections in various directions might also help bring more people in. Designated free parking in a few lots might also help so that people can drive in and know where they can park - where its not going to cost them a bunch of money.
  • Canal
    I think the canal is great. At one end is White River State Park, then the NCAA, the Indiana State Museum, the Medal of Honor Walls, the Eiteljorg, Military Park and the History Center. That's all within a half a mile. What more do you need?
  • Family friendly
    I like the idea of little shops and restaurants. The parking idea by Tom makes a great point. Since I no longer work or attend school downtown and no longer have easy parking available, we've stopped going to the canal for walks.

    I think any additions to the canal need to be family friendly. When we're down there walking, we usually have dogs and strollers in tow. We're probably not going to stop at museum for a few hours on a whim, but might take a few minutes to run into a shop or museum store.
  • ADD Proper signage
    It is a proven fact that well designed buidlign and wayfinding signage will get customers to enter your building and this will be the least expensive option.
  • No Interest
    Very possibly, the people that frequent the canal area, like most people in greater Indianapolis, could care less about going to a museum. That might be the answer and I don't think some shop is going to change their minds.
  • parking
    Underground parking for the HART Shakespeare show in White River State Park earlier this month was only $3 or $4 but maybe that was a special deal for that event.

    Still, I love that parking garage. You turn right off Washington, I think it is, as if you are going to the Eiteljorg, but then immediately turn left and go (slowly!) down the very steep ramp.

    Everything is clearly labelled underground: Eiteljorg, NCAA Museum, State Museum, park/ you can easily go where you want to go after you have parked your car.

    I think I got some kind of break on the parking the last time I went to the Eiteljorg, too, after paying admission and getting my parking ticket stamped or whatever. I can't remember if I did for the State Museum.

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit
  • passport/popping in to see a friend
    Oh! But getting back to Lou's original question:

    I love museum shops as much as anyone, but I think there are two other possibilities to explore:

    1. Have a kind of passport like the national parks do, where you get your booklet stamped at each destination, or have some other kind of very affordable collectible at each destination. Something only found at the canal entrances.

    For example, when I went to see the special Abraham Lincoln exhibits at the State Museum earlier this year, one of my friends stopped to put a penny in a special little machine that flattened and stretched it into a souvenir from that museum. She was collecting specially-smashed-and-imprinted pennies from museums all over the country, I think she said. The machine at each destination imprinted a design unique to that destination.

    2. Capitalize on the appeal of museums for those of us that like to pop in to see "our" favorite piece.

    When I was in middle school, for example, my best friend's mother and grandmother took us to the Indianapolis Museum of Art one afternoon. We made plans to meet at a certain time to have ladies' luncheon in the fancy restaurant.

    As soon as my friend and I were on our own, she grabbed my arm and said, "C'mon. I want to show you something."

    We made a beeline to a painting of Hell and poured over its details. I agreed with my friend that it was horrible...and fascinating! People were getting skinned alive...Yuck!

    For years, every time either one of us visited the IMA, we would visit that painting first to be repulsed and fascinated anew.

    (I'm sorry that I can't remember the name of that painting or its painter. My friend and I have grown apart, and the last time I was at the IMA, I couldn't find the painting, and the staff member I spoke with didn't know it.)

    I bet that each of the museums on the canal has something that people like to see again and again and again, even as they are drawn to, and expect, new exhibits.

    Maybe there could be a contest at each museum for locals: if you were from out of town and could only see one thing in this museum, what one thing should not be missed?

    And then those things could be incorporated into a special "pop in path" publicity piece. You pop in to see the must-sees...and then linger to explore the still-to-be-discovered.

    Well, that's the best I can do on my lunch break. Good luck to all of the museums along the canal.

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit

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