Perhaps one of the most devastating wars in history, World War II is widely taught around the world. It involved more than 30 countries and drastically changed the dynamic of the United States as we know it today. We’re nearing the end of the final generation who was alive during this international conflict that broke out in 1939, but the trials, tribulations, stories and tragedies live on in history books, novels, and the National World War II Museum that takes up three of the four street corners at Andrew Higgins Boulevard and Magazine Street in New Orleans.
Founded in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum, the National World War II Museum has since expanded to cover six acres of the downtown area. “The National World War II Museum is an unforgettable way to experience the war — from industrial efforts on the home front to the combat experience of the American service member abroad,” said Maggie Greenbaum, assistant director of retail merchandising.
The books written and movies made about World War II can alone fill up their own museum. So it takes an exceptionally grandiose layout to feature as much information as possible in a compelling, seamless way. The museum has accomplished that task. It offers a blend of sweeping narrative and poignant personal detail featured in the exhibits, multimedia experiences and first-person oral histories offered throughout. These stories, while inherently melancholy, help this vital piece of history live on for future generations.
Beyond the exhibits and galleries, the museum offers unique access to experiential history, including the opportunity to tour and even ride on an authentically restored World War II patrol-torpedo boat. Additionally, distance-learning programs, travel programs and a renowned International Conference on WWII offer patrons and students new ways to connect to history and honor the generation that sacrificed so much to secure our freedom.
And the museum continues to grow; construction is underway above Founders Plaza for the Bollinger Canopy of Peace, an architectural sculpture; the Hall of Democracy pavilion that will house the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy; the Higgins Hotel & Conference Center, a 1940s-themed hotel and conference center; and the Liberation Pavilion, which will explore the impact and legacies of World War II.
To further drive home the massive size of the museum, is the fact that there are five separate gift shops. Not only are there five gift shops, but each shop has its own focus. From books, classroom supplies and general souvenirs to exhibit-specific — think Rosie the Riveter — and even an apparel shop, featuring authentic clothing pieces and accessories. Greenbaum and Chris Michel, director of retail and parking services, delve deeper into these shops.
Museums & More: You have five shops. Do each of these shops have their own focus or theme?
Chris Michel and Maggie Greenbaum: With our fifth store opening this (past) summer, it’s more important than ever to make sure each store has a unique presence. Every museum operation with multiple stores faces the same challenge of how to communicate to guests that each store is different from the others. It is our job to make certain when a guest walks into a specific store that it is visibly different through product assortment and merchandise presentation. It is also our job to make sure museum store staff is trained to communicate additional locations and themes to our visitors.
MM: What are some of your best-selling products and product categories in the gift shops?
CM and MG: Unlike many museum stores, apparel is our best-selling category; resulting in over 30% of our total retail sales. Custom products, such as MONOPOLY: America’s World War II:We’re All in This Together Edition, do very well and generate excitement amongst our guests. Also, books continue to perform well and support the educational mission of the Museum. Autographed books are always in high demand by our guests, so we try to acquire signed copies at all of our lectures on campus.
MM: Where do you source your products?
CM and MG: The Museum Store Association’s annual Conference and Expo provides us with the best opportunity to see many different categories in a single location, allowing us to source existing products and to create new ones. Additionally, we attend trade shows such as AmericasMart, Las Vegas Market, Toy Fair in New York, The Las Vegas Souvenir and Resort Gift Show and Magic in Las Vegas.
MM: The apparel gift shop is so authentic. Is it difficult to find pieces like these, or is there a place that helps easily curate the collection?
CM and MG: Around five years ago, this gift store became our ‘40s-inspired clothing and accessories boutique for men and women. Our goal is always to allow our visitor to choose how vintage or modern they want their look to be while shopping. This store is such a unique interpretation of our museum and something, as far as I know, that no other museum store is offering. We go to Las Vegas twice a year to attend such shows as Magic, Liberty Fairs and London Edge to find unique product for the store. We try to find brands that were a part of WWII history, brands that make replications of 1940s styles or brands that have the classic silhouettes that work for today and fit the era as well.