museums&MORE Winter 2016
From the Ground Up By Zeke Jennings

Antonio children's museum moves to bigger, better location in 2015

As one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, San Antonio needed a bigger and better children’s museum to keep up with its burgeoning population.

Enter the DoSeum, a two-story, state-of-the-art center geared toward teaching and engaging children. The facility encompasses 104,000 square feet of exhibit space — 65,000 indoors and 39,000 outdoors — which includes the DoSeum Store, led by Christa Simpson, the Manager of Retail Operations.

The San Antonio Children’s Museum opened in 1995 on E. Houston Street, less than two blocks from San Antonio’s renowned Riverwalk. Although the museum was located in a prime downtown location, the limited space became too small to fulfill the administration’s bigger aspirations. The new location is northeast of downtown near the San Antonio Zoo.

We were downtown off the Riverwalk for 20 years, but we decided to grow up and away and expand,” Simpson said. “Now we’re two miles up the road on the museum corridor.”

Building a better store

Simpson, who held a similar position for more than two years at the Discovery Children’s Museum in Las Vegas, joined the San Antonio museum in January 2015, when it was still at its former location. At the time, the museum was about two months from closing, with the new DoSeum location set to open in early June. That time frame gave Simpson a very unique opportunity. Not only was she able to get a taste of the previous retail space in terms of what worked and what didn’t, she was able to design the new retail store essentially from scratch.

“We knew moving to a brand-new facility, we had to have a bigger retail space — we’re expecting to draw 600,000 people in just the first year,” Simpson recalled. “When I came in, the store was kind of knickknacky. A lot of the products didn’t fit the mission. Things were just kind of all over the place.

“I wanted to make sure every item fit the museum’s mission. I wanted to coordinate with our camps, programs, exhibits and anything else the museum has going.”

Step No. 1 for Simpson was reaching out to her new community. That included seeking out local artists and manufacturers for potential products, but most importantly, seeking out her potential clientele — local parents.

“When I first got here, I actually held a panel and found out what local moms would want. I asked some of the mommy bloggers what they want in a museum,” Simpson said. “Hearing their feedback was amazing. There were instances where I never thought they might like this over that. It was very information. I made sure to hit all of their requests.”

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Finding products

While at the Discovery Children’s Museum in Las Vegas, Simpson made a habit of inviting local artists and authors to bring in their products. She did the same when it came time to stock the DoSeum Store, but was blown away by amount of quality and quantity there was to choose from.

“I couldn’t believe the culture there is here. It seems like every weekend there is a festival or local theater,” Simpson said. “It’s a amazing partnership we all have in this town. It’s opened my eyes to so much more potential. … I’m always walking the Riverwalk, and it’s amazing to see all the handmade products that are out there.”

One example of involving the local community was bringing in artist Cruz Ortiz, who Simpson said is quite well-known in the area, to do live screen-printing using his old-fashioned system to make T-shirts on-site.

The new DoSeum store has been stocked with a lot of robotics-themed merchandise and displays and Simpson always makes sure science has a strong presence in the store. She even used her own creative touch to design logos that appear on apparel, as well as some of the products the store carries.

“We have a Baxter robot in an exhibit. The company donated one to the museum and it does shows throughout the day,” Simpson said. “I made a line of Baxter products and we also carry a lot of robots. Since we are the DoSeum, I want to provide the aspect of being able to play with a kit or buying it and then taking it home to build yourself.”

A big hit

Attendance the first few months has been through the roof, Simpson said. The new facility received a lot of attention from local and regional media outlets, but the crowds haven’t stopped coming, even after the grand-opening hoopla.

“On weekends, lines are out the door,” Simpson said. “We like to ask where people are from, and I’ve been amazed how many people are driving three-plus hours from Dallas or Houston just to come here for the day.”

That’s also meant good news for the DoSeum store, which is tripling early goals, Simpson said. Above all else, Simpson hopes to provide educational products that have a lasting quality.

“We wanted products that (kids) could play with now, put on a shelf as a teenager and then on their desk as an adult,” she said.

— Follow the DoSeum on Facebook, Twitter

Zeke Jennings

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