St. Louis’ beloved City Museum has long prided itself on having very few rules — “don’t run” being one of them. But when the 600,000-square-foot playland reopened Wednesday after months without visitors, it had a host of new policies and procedures in place.
Those new rules are designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, even while allowing guests access to the giant tunnels and slides that have long been the museum’s raison d’etre — well, most of them, anyway. In addition to some features being closed, now visitors have to reserve their spots ahead of time. If they’re over 9 years old, they have to wear masks. And the museum will be given a complete cleaning between groups of visitors.
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, general manager Rick Erwin discussed the difficulty of bringing order to a place that has long promised near-total freedom.
“It was overwhelming,” Erwin acknowledged. “[This was] the place without rules, the place without signs … the amount of signs I just purchased made me uncomfortable. And then I had to go to staff, the crew, the people that build the place, and say, ‘This is what we’ve got to become.’
“And they recognized it and understood,” he continued. “‘This is just a different time. We’ve got to adapt what we need to do to open, to make staff and customers safe. But we just want to get back to building.’”
Erwin added, “Definitely, City Museum is not the same City Museum I knew it as, for 13 years going on 14. But I’ve always known our staff to adapt, and make things and try to find ways to create and make new magic.”
Erwin said one longtime City Museum feature has no reopening date: the ball pit.
“I just couldn’t do it,” Erwin said. “I feel so bad. I stand in the parking lot and welcome people in, and the first thing you hear little kids say is, ‘Oh, ball pit!’ And then I’ve got to be like, ‘I’m the guy who shut it down, I’m so sorry!’ That was a hard one.”
The conversation also included pre-taped remarks from City Museum guests and representatives of other hands-on museums grappling with reopening.
That included the Magic House, the children’s museum in Kirkwood, which opened Monday, and the St. Louis Science Center, which reopens to the general public Saturday.
Carrie Hutchcraft, the chief administrative officer of the Magic House, said opening has felt like a relief after weeks of planning.
“The smiles on these kids’ faces when they run up to the door is just so great to see,” she said. “Everybody’s excited. They’re happy to see the changes that we’ve put in place to help support these new social-distancing efforts, they’re happy that we’ve been taking these extra steps, and we’re glad to be able to welcome them back.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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