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Museum People’s Favorite Museum Stores

Category: Alliance Blog
A store counter covered in stickers
You can't go wrong with any museum store, but which are the most beloved of all? We asked readers to share their favorites. Photo credit: Courtesy of the American Visionary Art Museum

Museumgoers know that one of the best places to find distinctive, cherishable objects, books, and apparel is in a museum store. With their connection to their institutions’ educational missions, these special stores boast a well-considered assortment of products with a unified theme, and are a great way to support a favorite museum while adding a dose of joy to your (or a lucky giftee’s) life. Particularly in this season of gift-giving, any savvy shopper would do well to peruse the physical or virtual shelves of one. But with so many to choose from, where should they start?

While they can’t go wrong whichever one they turn to, we thought we’d do our part to point to some of the most beloved of all. And what source would be better than museum people themselves? So, this month we used our Field Notes Question of the Month to ask them to share their favorites. Dozens of different answers came in, but there were a few that got extra love. Without further ado, here are museum people’s favorite museum stores!

Sideshow at the American Visionary Art Museum (Baltimore, Maryland)

Nominated by Joe Imholte, Kia Karlen, Shannon Marie Smith, Kim Lopez, Alicia Crosby, Ann Millin, Baltimore Museum of Industry, Chloe Frances, Kathy Leacock, Emily Meyer Kosova, Adina Brosnan McGee, and Lindsey Jackson

“It is as if a proper upstanding fine art museum store met and fell in love with (and whose parents do not approve of) a scientific, industrial, electronic, and mechanical surplus store, and then had a child.” – Joe Imholte

“When I take out-of-town visitors, I tell them we need to plan an hour for the store.” – Shannon Marie Smith

By far the most-mentioned store was at Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum. Operated independently by Ted Frankel, a.k.a. “Uncle Fun,” the Sideshow store bills itself as “a definite match to the museum’s message and philosophy, tapping into intuitive expression and a child-like sense of wonder.” In addition to original artworks, its exuberant assortment includes scarves and bowls made from recycled saris, “snarky” kitchen towels, and “cheap tricks and gags.”

MoMA Design Store (New York, New York)

Nominated by Sarah Sosa-Acevedo, Tamara Zaks, Joan Lessing, Nancy Kazdin Scalzi, Jacqueline Eddiesdottir, Christina Cain Hardman, Debbie Rumley, and Magdalena Cedillos


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The Museum of Modern Art’s store is so popular that it now reaches far beyond the museum building, as a bonafide retail chain with six locations across Manhattan, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hong Kong. The secret to its success? Its rigorous product selection process, which entails a set of eight “design filter” criteria and final approval by the museum’s curators themselves. The Design Store sees itself as an outbranch of MOMA’s long history of architecture and design curation, working to make well-designed objects available at a wide variety of price points.

The National Building Museum Shop (Washington, District of Columbia)

Nominated by Eric Frere, Charles Fulcher, Sarah Sosa-Acevedo, and Jeanne Barnes

For fans of architecture and the built environment, there may be no better one-stop-shop than the National Building Museum’s store. Enthusiasts of all ages can find books, toys, home décor, clothing, and more that showcase their passion. Think Frank-Lloyd-Wright-inspired socks, memo pads shaped like houses, and stuffed animal versions of city-dwelling creatures like pigeons and rats.

VMFA Shop (Richmond, Virginia)

Nominated by Frederic Gleach, Chelisse Danielle Redman, Rebecca Guest, and Kerry Lucinda Brown

In addition to a generous jewelry, accessory, stationery, home, and books selection, the shop at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts stocks it shelves with delightfully on-theme merchandise to suit the museum’s temporary exhibitions. For the currently open Storied Strings: The Guitar in American Art, for instance, shoppers can pick up guitar-shaped salad tongs, earrings, and bookmarks.

National Gallery of Art Shops (Washington, District of Columbia)

Nominated by Kristen Renee, Susan Tissot, and Erin Adams


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The National Gallery of Art operates three well-loved shops throughout its campus, in its Concourse and East and West Buildings. It also offers touchscreen kiosks where visitors can order custom prints of their favorite works from the museum’s collection.

Museum of Jurassic Technology Gift Shop (Culver City, California)

Nominated by Kia Karlen, Erika Hirugami, and Etienne LaVallée

“Museum people know.” – Etienne LaVallée


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Befitting a cult-classic museum dedicated to the weird and mysterious, the shop at Los Angeles County’s Museum of Jurassic Technology purveys assured conversation-starters, like commemorative lockets dedicated to Soviet space dogs, reproduced cathedral carvings of dragons and sea monsters, and a tree ornament depicting two mice on a slice of toast.

Art Institute of Chicago Museum Shop (Chicago, Illinois)

Nominated by Kim Baker Nickels, Frederic Gleach, and Jane Tomich

The Art Institute of Chicago puts its formidable collection to great use in its store, with apparel, home goods, stationary, and more paying tribute to some of the most beloved works in the bunch. Visitors who fall for its famous lion statues at the Michigan Avenue entrance can also take home everything from bookends to beanies and bowties decorated with their likeness.

Field Museum Store (Chicago, Illinois)

Nominated by Pat Landolt Nickols, Susan Tissot, and Kathy Ludwig


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If you or a loved one’s areas of interest include gems and minerals, dinosaurs and fossils, or animals and insects, step right up to the Field Museum Store! Science lovers of all stripes will find just the gear they need to express themselves. Why not an “I Love Science Scarf” celebrating women’s achievements in the field, or dryer balls shaped like galaxies, or a replica of SUE the T.rex‘s tooth or claw?

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  1. Sadly, no Smithsonian Museum stores are on this list!
    The newly reopened, totally renovated museum store at the National Air and Space Museum, a 3 level store, has a unique product selection for kids and adults alike.
    A must see!!

  2. Denver Art Museum is pretty amazing. Wonderful things for every price point. They also feature items made my local artists. The last time I was in Denver I didn’t have time for the museum, but I still hit the gift shop!

  3. I find it very surprising the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of stores are not mentioned in this article. If you haven’t visited recently, I hope you can. Especially before the Matisse exhibition and its special exhibition store closes.

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