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Arts / Museums

One of Houston’s Hottest New Stores is a Complete Surprise

Gift Shop Mania Takes Off?

BY // 11.19.15
photography Wilson Parish

The MFAH (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) captivates patrons each day with copious exhibitions, all of which are meticulously curated to create a one-of-a-kind artistic experience. It’s this same attention to detail that has prompted the museum to make a series of modifications. Take the newly opened MFA Cafe, located on the museum’s ground floor. Replacing what was formerly Cafe Express, the new eatery gives visitors an experience that is more cohesive with the museum’s atmosphere, showcasing a more artful design as well as displaying archived works of art as restaurant scenery.

But one of the museum’s biggest transformations can be seen in the new MFA Shop. After shop manager Patricia Malley Smith parted ways with the museum, Chris Goins (you may know her from her star role at specialty shop Tootsies) stepped in as general manager of retail for a complete gift shop overhaul.

The result — a revamped retail space that comes complete with new product lines sourced from across the world, a redesigned interior, cutting-edge displays and a fresh, new logo. After passing the store entry that is now lined with vibrant Andy Warhol prints and colorful, life-sized cardboard animals, one of the first things you’ll notice is the amount of increased open space.

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The MFAH shop’s wide open space provides customers with a clutter-free shopping experience.

“We’ve reduced the amount of inventory in the store and opened up the shop a considerable amount, to where if you stand any place within the store, your eye can easily do a 360 view and you can see everything that is happening,” says Goins.

The smaller inventory is in no way a negative. Goins uses her trained eye to provide customers with an excellent selection of fewer goods, which in turn offers an uncluttered view for better shopping. Many of the products that appear in the store already existed, but were previously harder to discover because of the larger inventory.

“The best shops offer the promise that when you go into them, and you select something from them, that your life will be enhanced. Buy this product, go home, and suddenly everything will be beautiful. In order for that magic to occur, the environment in which we present merchandise has to make that promise,” explains museum director Gary Tinterow. “Essentially, what we’ve done here is what everyone should do with their closet. Take everything out and only bring back the items you’re committed to — the items that actually enhance your life.”

Continue your journey through the store, and you’re met with striking display windows that highlight the museum’s curatorial departments. Behind each window, an exhibition image is housed alongside a functional object that speaks to the genre or department. One standout: A dynamic Frank Stella image is paired with a geometric handbag from Bea Valdes (a designer from the Phillipines) that has been flipped on its side to show the relationship between the bag’s function and Stella’s artistic form.

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Colorful German teddy bears ($18.95) are displayed in glass cases.

This type of artistic display is carried throughout the shop. Lucite cases, each depicting a different theme, bring products closer to patrons for easier viewing. The cases display everything from spatulas referencing pop art to a colorful power adapter (which can be used in various countries) to a case full of gold treasures like gold playing cards, a Tom Dixon quill-shaped, gold-plated bookmark and a 24-carat gold Slinky.

Another way that the store has become more accessible for visitors is price point. Products start as low as $1 for a post card, and there are also stunning functional pieces for a mere $5. The shop’s most expensive piece, an orange bicycle from Martone Cycling ($1,400), sits front and center on a bold, sleek display.

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This bike is the most expensive item in the MFAH gift shop.

But even with all of the enhancements, the space retains the true essence of a gift shop, providing memorable takeaways for its artful adventurers.

“We have a lot of people who come into the museum and say, ‘I want something that has Texas on it’, or ‘I want something that references my time being here.’ So we brought in vintage Texas souvenirs and vintage globes. It references how the world is changing, and how the shop is also changing,” Goins says.

“From the beginning of American museology, in the 19th century, there was always a connection between good design, industrial product and art museums. And one of the functions of art museums was to provide examples for industrial designers to create objects of beauty and utility for people to use in their everyday lives,” says Tinterow. “Now I feel that our store can offer you beautiful objects that will truly enhance your life.”

The MFA Shop is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 am to 5 pm, Thursdays from 10 am to 9 pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 am to 7 pm and Sundays from 12:15 to 7 pm. The store is closed on Mondays (except for holidays) as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. 

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