Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is CMOR On The Way Out Of The City?

The Children’s Museum of Richmond (CMOR) is one of my favorite places. Over the years I have taken my grandchildren there and we have had great times. One of the really great things about CMOR is the diverse nature of its customers. It is one of the few places in the Richmond area where children of different skin color and economic status can play and learn together.

Last year, while driving from Trader Joe's to Whole Foods in the distant west end, I noticed that one of the new buildings, which had been sitting vacant for months, now held the Children’s Museum of Richmond. On another day I brought one of my grandchildren to this new facility. The west end CMOR is smaller than the one in the city but it has enough activities to keep at least the younger kids quite busy. However, one of the things that I gradually became aware of was that almost all of the children were just like my granddaughter—white.

My mind wandered, as a maven’s mind is wont to do, and I thought of how fortunate the developers of West Broad Village were to get CMOR to take one of their vacant sites. Then I started wondering how this new CMOR would affect attendance at the museum in the city. Then my mind made the final leap: would parents use of this west end CMOR so reduce usage of the downtown museum that it would eventually be relocated entirely out of the city? No, I told myself, you are just being paranoid. But . . .

This past Saturday the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran an article entitled “Children’s Museum looking at Chesterfield.” According to CMOR president and CEO, Karen Coltrane, the museum’s success with its west end location has caused it to seek to build a new “satellite” in Chesterfield. They are looking at the area near the nexus of Hull Street Road and Route 288 as a place where there are lots of children. Coltrane indicated that in its first year the West Broad Village location had drawn 120,000 visitors, and CMOR membership had increased by 1,500 families. During that same year attendance at the city location decreased by about 5%. (Coltrane attributed this decreased attendance on high gasoline prices.) In the words of Brain Pitney, chairman of CMOR’s board of trustees, “It's been our experience that people out in the suburbs find it more convenient if we come out to them.”

So what happens next? CMOR will raise the money and they will bail out some Chesterfield County developer with a now vacant property by building their next satellite. That location will draw more than 100,000 customers in its first year. During that same year attendance to the museum in the city will drop (because of the high cost of gasoline, of course). And, because “people out in the suburbs find it more convenient if we come out to them,” it will be time for CMOR to consider another satellite this time in Hanover County. Finally, some day, CMOR will notice that far more children are attending their satellites than the museum downtown. Some future CEO or board chair will question whether it makes sense to still operate the city museum when most of the customers are using the suburban locations. CMOR will be replaced by CMOC (Chesterfield), CMOHa (Hanover), CMOHe (Henrico) and perhaps other suburban locations.

But, don’t mind me. You all know the maven is an alarmist.

1 comment:

Jackie said...

I feel as an employee of the Children's Museum of Richmond it is my duty to assure you the Central Location is not going anywhere. I work at CMOR Short Pump, and yes, we do have a lot of visitors, but we are geared towards a distinct age group: 6 and under. Older kids still have a lot more fun at CMOR central, and when the current attendees of CMOR Short Pump get older, they will relocate to the central location as well. Also, all special events and programs happen at CMOR central, and will probably continue that way for some time.

Yes, certainly the decline in attendance at our central location can be attributed in part to the opening of our new location in Short Pump, but the fact that we are in a recession, and gas prices are rising, certainly has something to do with it as well. Short Pump is in a great location for a lot of families in West End, and while perhaps not as diverse as the downtown location, Short Pump still reaches a pretty broad spectrum of people.

CMOR central is in no danger of closing, even in the far future, at least not as a result of opening branch locations. If anything, branches allow more people who, in the past, had less access to the museum, to become acquainted with our programs and our goals.

I hope this is at least a little bit reassuring, and I hope that you give Short Pump another shot, we can be a pretty fun place. :)