In absence of visitors during the recent COVID-19 shutdown, the Lightner Museum has undergone a transformation. Returning patrons will find that almost the entire first floor has been given a makeover.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the gift shop, which was the focus of an open house Thursday, June 18.
The shop, formerly located on the mezzanine level over the old pool area, has been moved into the space that had housed the Victorian Village, which has been retired after three decades on display.
“It makes sense for the gift shop to be on the first floor of the museum,” said Angela de Gregory, volunteer coordinator and events manager. “I think we’ll get a lot more traffic. Also, I think that the new gift shop is kind of symbolic of a larger transition that the museum is making as we move forward.”
The shop is an attraction in itself. The windows, formerly covered over, now let in bright sunlight to give a luster to the treasures on display. The merchandise is unusual, purposefully sought out by store manager and buyer Katie Fieldman.
“I think it makes a unique store, because I try to get merchandise that you don’t see around town,” she said.
She pointed out a selection of purses from London and a display of globes that slowly spin on their axes.
The shop also now sells items branded with the museum’s logo, as well as merchandise with a local flavor such as coffee from The Kookaburra and photography by Jackie Hird.
“We’re trying to expand the items a little bit more to also represent our local community,” de Gregory said.
A seating area, where visitors can enjoy a beverage or a snack, has been added to the shop as well.
The area vacated by the shop will house a restored stained-glass exhibit and a new virtual reality exhibit, in which visitors will be able to design their own virtual Gilded Age mansions based upon photos of some of the most popular items from the museum’s collection.
The museum was closed to the public from mid-March through the first week of May in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. During that time, the entire first floor was repainted and refloored, two new public restrooms were constructed, a new sound system was installed and a lot of plumbing and electrical work was performed.
In the science room, the taxidermied lion once owned by Winston Churchill is among the exhibits being spruced up.
“He’s, overall, in good shape, but I think we’re going to give him a new eye and brush him a little — just give him a little makeover,” said de Gregory.
The shutdown came as museum officials were planning to recreate the gift shop anyway. The enforced absence of the public allowed staff to make use of the time to the museum’s advantage.
The museum at 75 King St. is located in the former Alcazar Hotel, built in the 1890s by Henry Flagler. The hotel eventually closed and the building was purchased by Otto C. Lightner, who opened the museum in the 1940s.