Honor & Preservation
Situated on Spring Street in the SoHo district, New York City Fire Museum welcomes over 40,000 visitors per year. This renovated 1904 firehouse is a cultural destination that carries a variety of firefighting artifacts, dating back to the 18th century — the exterior is even an architectural attraction all on its own.
The building, once infused with sounds of emergency responses, is now a destination with a mission “…to collect, preserve and present the history and cultural heritage of the fire service of New York and to provide fire prevention and safety education to the public, especially children.”
“All the exhibits at the museum illustrate the evolution of firefighting from the bucket brigades of Peter Stuyvesant’s New Amsterdam through the colorful history of volunteer firefighters to modern firefighting techniques and equipment,” Noemi Bourdier, assistant director for New York City Fire Museum explained.
The museum even offers a Fire Safety Learning Center, which is an interactive experience complete with a mock apartment, designed to educate visitors about burn and fire hazards, how to prevent a fire at home and provides safety tips.
9/11 Memorial Room
“The Museum houses a special memorial to the 343 members of the FDNY (New York City Fire Department) who made the supreme sacrifice on 9/11, and features a number of firefighting artifacts recovered from the World Trade Center site,” she said.
Every year, the New York City Fire Museum conducts a special wreath laying ceremony in its memorial room to honor the victims and heroes of 9/11. “The FDNY Color Guard along with FDNY officials come in to present the wreath followed by singing of the national anthem and a message from our director. The Museum is also open free of charge to all visitors on 9/11,” Bourdier shared.
The Gift Shop
The museum’s gift shop shares the space with the entrance and lobby area, so visitors will have a peek at retail offerings as soon as they walk in. The store’s register is even located under the building’s original staircase and a creative display of helmets from the FDNY and from around the world are visible for all to see and enjoy.
The store also shares space with the Housewatch Desk, “a replica of what firehouses used to have and served as the dispatcher to fires,” Bourdier detailed. The former Houswatch Desk in the museum now serves as the information desk.
Bourdier shared that generally the museum store offers items sold exclusively at its shop, and does not purchase commemorative items in bulk or that are available in any other stores. “We have a handful of vendors we work with year after year to create unique items,” she said.
She also noted that the top-sellers are all FDNY licensed products, specifically the Keep Back 200 Feet T-shirt and FDNY toy fire trucks and mugs. There is a limited number of vendors that are licensed to produce the FDNY trademark, so the store works with vendors such as Daron, New York Popular and Torkia to source its merchandise.
This year for the 9/11 anniversary, there will be some new items available. “We are planning on having some commemorative merchandise for the 20th anniversary. The selection of merchandise will be limited to a pin, t-shirt, patch, sticker and challenge coin,” she said.
Typically, the staff rotates merchandise displays as needed to accommodate new product offerings. Bourdier explained that the team is inspired by functionality and the spirit of FDNY when it creates the stunning displays. “When creating displays we like to show our new items and best-sellers,” she elaborated. “We are limited to creativity because of the amount of shared space we have.”
The team utilizes various heights within a display to highlight products. “Our t-shirts are displayed right under a row of foreign fire helmets. Another display is along our red bright staircase and features two half mannequins…along with other items like hats and houseware merchandise,” Bourdier elaborated.
Toys are placed at child-level in order for them to enjoy the displays, which are placed below the store register. Bourdier said the store’s large, front bay window provides direct sunlight to all its displays, which helps to highlight product.
She detailed that sourcing and ordering is completed on an as-needed basis and in small quantities. The only bulk items they order are the best-sellers, due to the minimal operating budget for the store.
Unique merchandise is key for this type of retail environment and it is important to the shoppers. Bourdier suggested retailers in similar shops could create “items that are unique to your museum and destination.”
Bourdier estimates that in addition to the museum visitors that come into the retail shop, approximately 5,000 visitors per year come into the store for last-minute gifts, as shoppers can access the store from the street and do not need to tour the museum to peruse merchandise.
The past year has been a challenge for the New York City Fire Museum Bourdier shared. The museum was closed for six months, from March until September, “which meant close to zero revenue.”
Although there is an online shop, it doesn’t produce the same volume of revenue the brick-and-mortar generates. “Our biggest challenge has been getting locals to visit the museum,” explained Bourdier. “Our biggest demographic was usually tourists, national and international firefighters.”
The New York City Fire Department Museum is now collecting items related to the COVID-19 pandemic to preserve and educate future generations of this time period and how the FDNY played a role.