At one time, the Fine Arts Center had three gifts shops.
Today, it has none.
Earlier this week, Cathy Coleman moved out the remaining books and children's art sets from her Luma store inside the FAC. After operating her eclectic arts store there for nearly five years, she closed shop on Jan. 1. She just wasn't doing enough business to stay open, she said.
"Everybody wants their business to grow every year," she said. "And things were staying steady as opposed to growing."
Coleman moved the last of the inventory to her Luma store at The Broadmoor, where she has been in business for 21 years. Unlike the store at the FAC,business at The Broadmoor has been good, she said.
"Certainly the economy made it difficult for most museum venues," Coleman said. "If business would have been better, I would have stayed. It's a beautiful museum."
Running museum gift shops can be tricky business, said Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. The shop's success depends on the museum's success, he said. And there are a variety of models, from contracting out the space to a private vendor, to running the shop internally or relying on a nonprofit arm, like the Friends of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, Mayberry said.
"We are always fiddling around in the margins, trying to figure out a better way to appeal to the visitor and serve the visitors," he said.
At smaller museumsand arts centers, the gift shops are not big money makers like at the Smithsonian. Rather, the little shops exist to enhance the visitor experience, Mayberry said. The Pioneers Museum gift shop turned a $10,000 profit in 2012 and it could be more for 2013.
"My perspective on what makes museum stores special and different is they exist to support the mission of the institution," he said.
Museum gift shops have to balance making money with selling memories, said Philippa Burgess, Museum Store Association marketing manager. With grant money dwindling, museum stores need to pick up the slack and become a bigger part of the overall business model of the museum, art center or cultural attraction, she said.
"They are not in the souvenir business," she said. "They are in the taking-a-piece-of-the-museum-home-with-them business."
The association, which has about 1,000 members nationwide, will meet in April at its conference in Houston specifically to talk about surviving in the unique retail space, Burgess said.
"I don't think it's an industry that they can set up and say it will be great," Burgess said. "There is an art side and business side and therein creates the magic."
For the Fine Arts Center, which had 77,559 visitors in fiscal year 2012-13, staff leadership wants to take some time to consider all the models, said Warren Epstein, the center's communications director. With a theater, art school, and museum, the center is an arts district all in one building, and a gift shop needs to be part of the total experience, he said.
"Luma brought interesting gifts and art-related things," Epstein said.
Already there is interest in Luma's 1,080-square-foot space, Epstein said. The trustees and director hope to have a new shop in place within a couple of months.
"It wasn't a huge money maker for us, but it was an important piece," he said. "To have some sort of retail piece is important, just like the special events and catering. It is an important part of the user experience that people expect."