museums&MORE Fall 2012
Eagles Mere Museum Shop

Discover and collect a piece of history

The Eagles Mere Museum Shop in Eagles Mere, Pa., may face a lot of challenges — from a small retail space to the seasonality of visitors — but that doesn’t mean they let those get in the way of providing an exceptional shopping experience for their guests.

One of the difficult things about a museum shop is once people have been through the museum a couple of times, they feel no need to come back,” said Joan Werner, a retired elementary art teacher of 20 years who currently serves as the manager at the Eagles Mere Museum Shop. “We have found by creating special shop events, it is a win-win situation for both the shop and the museum.”

They have had success with book signings, special artist signings of their prints, children’s programs and even with recreating an Eagles Mere Sweet Shop food specialty — chocolate covered marshmallows. The key, Werner said, is not to lose sight that they’re a museum shop and exist to enhance their visitors experience so they’ll come back again and again.

Once Upon A Time

The town of Eagles Mere itself has a long and storied history. Some of the first hotels were built in 1879, and building continued around the lake with the addition of boathouses, bathhouses and large summer cottages housing entire families with their cooks, servants and nannies. Seven hotels accommodated guests until the late 1960s, and while today these old hotels are simply memories, many of the cottages are still owned by their original families and have been passed down from generation to generation since the 1800s. This keeps the historic town special for not only the day-tripper, but also for the families and friends who return year after year.

The museum itself is the “centerpiece” to that very small village that has a total of eight shops, one real estate office and one eatery that is open only during the season. Because of that, the shopkeepers are very close knit and try not to overlap on too many products. That makes purchasing for the museum gift shop a very selective process.

“Overall, our purchasing has moved toward the functionality of the product, as customers are looking for items priced $20 or less,” Werner said. “This has made purchasing very difficult and unpredictable. What sold very well three years ago is not necessarily true now, so clothing, mugs, magnets and notecards have replaced large pieces of artwork and specialty items priced more than $45. We now price our items to sell, knowing our audience is there for only a short time.”

Since they have many more day-trippers compared to the past when visitors would stay for a long weekend at one of the two B&Bs, the shop’s must-have items have changed. Visitors coming up for a day will buy T-shirts, name-dropped ornaments with a lake theme, a variety of train and outdoor theme puzzles for kids ages three to 10 years old, shot glasses and mugs, pens, magnets, Eagles Mere license plates, stickers, wood signs of the town clock and lake canoe and watercolor prints and notecards of scenes in and around Eagles Mere — items with a low price point.

Their long weekend guests look for local history items, making their books about the area, artist prints depicting the town and lake, hats and antique postcards among the top-selling items.

“When it comes to clothing, both long- and short-sleeve T-shirts are offered with three different logos and one with the old Eagles Mere train for children and adults, which have become the most popular items,” Werner said. “We also offer knit hats, caps, fleece vests, hooded sweatshirts, crew neck sweatshirts, windbreakers, kids creepers and socks with lake-related designs.”

Some of the unique items in the store relate directly to the museum artifacts. For example, this year they had 12 limited edition hand-blown inkwells to commemorate the donation of one of Eagles Mere’s old schools that had students from 1902 to 1960.

They are doing a limited edition print of a 100-year-old high school diploma, which will include a little history of the named student and their family tree upon purchase. They also have antique postcards for sale that once were sold in some of the old hotels, as well as old brochures advertising the mountain resort. Once these items are sold there is no replacing them.

“We attend two shows per year looking for new ideas and vendors that can provide us with affordable delivery, minimal purchasing and good customer service,” Werner said. “It is a pleasure to see more American-made items at these shows and have found their service and quality often outmatches the foreign-made products purchased in the past.”

Rustic Retail

The fact that the museum shop is the smallest of all the shops in the town and has very little storage for inventory reiterates the need for vendors who can accommodate small beginning orders at affordable price points. Shipping costs play a large part in their selection of vendors, and they have found that dealing with local businesses and artists who print, embroider and work with them face-to-face are their first “go-to” vendors.

“Many shops can rearrange and update their display areas, but as a National Historic site, we are limited to what we can do to physically change things inside and out,” Werner said.

The shop itself has a very small footprint of about 240 square feet and contains a potbelly stove, as well as antique farm artifacts. Werner said they are continually challenged to work with the old general store shelving which is narrow and long, and the front window to the store was originally created for light and not for display purposes. In addition, the county’s Visitors Bureau is also housed in the shop and requires them to display brochures, flyers and posters.

“Our shop has the additional challenge of being a summer resort in the mountains with a season that lasts from the end of June to the second week in August,” she added. “This means we seldom sell out of any one item during our summer season, but moving and rethinking our displays has been a proven success. Even though the items may not have changed, it gives a returning customer a new perspective on items they may have missed the first time through.”

But even with those challenges, keeping the store true to its original look makes visitors feel that they have stepped back in time, and Werner said that most people can’t leave without purchasing something to remember their visit.

And if history is any indication, visitors will return to Eagles Mere —and the unique museum gift shop — for many more years in the future.

By Abby Heugel

Managing Editor

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