Their doors now are open, but officials at several St. Joseph museums say attendance continues to be sluggish as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Now they are left searching for answers on how to get visitors inside while losing opportunities for bus tours and large group events.
The Patee House Museum has seen admissions drop by more than 50% compared to last summer. This has resulted in about a $90,000 drop in year-to-date revenue compared to last year. In 2020, the museum has made about $56,000 and had around $120,500 in expenses, according to Gary Chilcote, the museum’s director.
“The attendance is about 57% of what it was last year at this time, and last year was not a very good year for us. The Jesse James House is even worse because we can’t afford to have it open every day,” Chilcote said.
Chilcote said his museum does not receive any compensation from the county or the state, so the museum operates through mainly attendance revenue. After being closed for several months, Chilcote said tour buses and large groups have decreased, and he said he is unsure what the future will hold.
“We hope that it will be better,” Chilcote said. “Now that we are done with school vacation, our attendance will always fall off, so we’re just seeing what happens.”
The St. Joseph Museums, which also operates the Glore Psychiatric Museum, the Black Archives and the Doll Museum, are in similar situation as the Patee House since they reopened. Museum Director Sara Wilson said attendance has been down 40% from last year.
The museum now is looking at different opportunities to recover financially from the loss in attendance. Staff have added an “Adopt an Object” program, which allows people to donate money to help preserve a specific object. This is done online in a tier system.
“We really rely on our earned income, gift shop sales, admissions, the trips we do, the educational programming, the tours, the special events, so we’ve taken a big hit to the budget for sure,” Wilson said.
The “Adopt an Object” program and the possibility of outside lawn events are among the plans to recover some revenue.
“One of the reasons that we’ve come up with the idea of the ‘Adopt an Object’ program is just to help us earn some of that revenue that we really rely on to continue to care for our collection,” Wilson said.
The Pony Express Museum also has seen slow business after reopening in May. Museum Director Cindy Daffron said her staff has added COVID-19 precautions such as limiting one group to each zone, arrows for directions on the floor and hand sanitizer stations, which has helped business.
“We did a couple of virtual things like showing the museum, I gave a guided tour for an hour, and that’s actually hit the educational side with the school district,” Daffron said. “It gave people an opportunity ... to show their family and friends and so being able to come here to this facility, and know that they can do it safely, has made a big mark.”
Daffron said she is optimistic that business will pick up as travelers and those planning vacations visit places of historical significance, especially now that international travel is becoming difficult.