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Gift shops in zoos - the good, the bad and the ugly

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Batto, 28 Jul 2016.

  1. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    Dear fellow Zoochatters,

    maybe it's just me and my advancing nostalgia, but the zoo gift shops nowadays aren't what they used to be.

    These days, the few (intellectually hardly challenging) relict books, zoo journals etc. find themselves surrounded by a growing mass of garish, kitchy, mass-produced junk, mostly made out of non-recyclable plastic that contracts the "green" message some zoos pretend to convey. And worst of all: it's pretty much always the same kind of plush toys, plastic figurines, 3D postcards, ghastly clothes etc.-the only difference, if at all, is the individual logo of the zoo somewhere squeezed in. It's as if there's a giant warehouse somewhere, where all the zoos unanimously get their merchandise from.

    I know, I know-this is an unavoidable consequence of globalization and the increasing business attitude of zoos. However, I wonder: are there still some marvellous zoo gift shops you can recommend, may it be for selling unique, cool and interesting items or just for being "different" and worth a visit? And which zoo gift shops would you deter your fellow ZooChatter from?

    Looking forward to reading your suggestions, warnings etc.!
     
  2. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    In my experience thus far, although still subject to the same unfortunate trend towards the lowest common denominator, the gift shops in German collections are *significantly* better than those in the United Kingdom - in recent years the only UK collection which still sells a decent range of in-depth literature is Bristol Zoo. Much as I love Chester Zoo, I have to say that their gift shop is among the tackiest and lowest-denominator of the lot! The worst in the UK, in my opinion, is the one at Edinburgh Zoo - which used to be reasonably good, until the Giant Pandas arrived and pretty much everything sold there became panda-themed in some way.

    The best zoo giftshop I have ever seen is - sadly - no longer extant; this being the giftshop specialising in antiquarian books and old zoo guidebooks which was located at one of the entrances to Tierpark Berlin. I am given to understand that this has now been replaced by an identikit giftshop of the sort you complain about in your original post, Batto :( this excluded, I think the giftshops at Tierpark Hellabrunn, Leipzig Zoo, Weltvogelpark Walsrode and Zoo Augsburg are among the better ones I have encountered, with particular praise due to Walsrode - which sells a lot of plastic figures and plush toys unique to the collection, rather than the generic ones found elsewhere, along with a pretty good range of books. There can't be many places where one can buy a giant plush Shoebill!

    The worst I have encountered in Germany is probably the one at Hannover Zoo - it had almost no "soul" or unique quality which I could discern, being a prime example of, as you say:

    One thing I *will* say is that even the kitchiest and worst giftshops I have come across in German collections do sell wide ranges of postcards unique to the collection in question; this is more than I can say for collections such as Chester Zoo, whose postcard offerings are generic, or the vast majority of UK collections which don't sell them at all these days.
     
  3. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

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    I can speak from my somewhat extensive zoo travels in the United States (though I have been to a few in Europe also).

    You are absolutely correct, they are all buying from a central warehouse. Many large city zoos are run by a national merchandising company. The zoos like it because the company knows what (junk) sells and the zoo is guaranteed a profit without having to concern themselves with retail staffing.

    I encountered this firsthand two years ago when I self-published a book called Zoos of the Southwest. I naturally contacted the 17 zoos in the book about carrying the book in their gift shop. It took quite a while to get through to the people in charge at the retail headquarters and then was turned down immediately because I could not give them a high enough profit margin. Only one zoo (Wildlife World Zoo) did buy my book and they do run their own gift shop. Their gift shop is still somewhat tacky but they have a handful of decent books.

    BY FAR the best gift shop I have seen is at my local Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. They have a huge selection of adult books (though sadly I could never get a reply on carrying my book, despite numerous contact attempts). They also have southwest pottery and jewelry and some unique plush animal toys not seen elsewhere (javelina, coyote, etc).

    San Diego, both zoo and safari book, used to have extensive book selections but I noticed on my last visit the selection is much smaller. They still have a few good books and some nice merchandise such as animal themed dinnerware.

    Overall, however, I agree with you most gift shops are just cookie cutter operations with cheap kids toys made in China.
     
    Last edited: 29 Jul 2016
  4. Shorts

    Shorts Well-Known Member

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    I believe this may only be partly correct. Yes, the new entrance giftshop is particularly poor but when I visited in April 2015 it seemed that the original giftshop (or one selling exactly the stuff you describe) had relocated to a kiosk slightly to the left (as you're looking at it with camelid paddocks behind you) of the main restaurant.

    Maybe a more regular visitor can clarify the current situation?
     
  5. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    Thanks @TLD and @Arizona Docent; I'm glad to see that it's not just me noticing this.
    And I agree - even back then when I visited it many years ago, the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum had a nice gift shop. But what to expect otherwise from such a great institution? Thanks for sharing your experience @AD with the US zoo merchandise industry! It's even more remarkable when you're old enough to remember what zoo and aquaria gift shops used to sell; I still have the mako shark jaw my dad bought me at the Shedd Aquarium as a little kid...
    When I visited the main gift shop at Bronx zoo this April, I turned on my heels and fled. What a horrible, horrible temple of consumerism, void of any class whatsoever.

    As for the situation at Tierpark Berlin: maybe I can clarify this. In the years before AK (Andreas Knieriem), the Tierpark had two permanent gift shops-one at the bear entrance, the other in the pachyderm house, selling guidebooks, postcards, posters etc. The one at the bear entrance also had copies of the Milu/Bongo etc., old guidebooks from other zoos etc. on sale. Furthermore, there was a kiosk run by the local zoo supporter group offering old zoo posters, postcards, used books etc. near the dingo exhibit that was opened during the weekends part of the year; a gold mine of lovely zoo nostalgia items, always run by lovely old ladys and chaps. The content of this kiosk (including the old folks) has now been moved to a kiosk near the water buffaloes; since the new director isn't too fond of anything related to his antecessors, I wonder how long it will operate.

    Now for the two gift shops: they have indeed been turned into the garish clones TLD describes. It's like watching a decent old chap you have known for years suddenly turn into a shopaholic gaudy hipster.

    For those among you collecting zoo guidebooks, postcards etc., the times they are a-changin'. Both in American and European zoos I've recently visited, such items are phased out. After all, who needs a guidebook when there are zoo apps? And who writes a postcard if one can take a personalized pic and share it via the social networks right afterwards and for free?

    The gift shops in Germany you've mentioned TLD are also following this trend; Hellabrunn, for example, is phasing out most of its merchandise sporting the iconic Hohlwein logo. Leipzig has such a tacky gift shop at the exit that-unless you're a child-makes you feel like those Nazis looking into the ark of the covenant. And Augsburg is only selling those African souvenir items as leftovers from their "African Village" phase.

    Nevertheless, I still have my hopes up in regard to zoochatters bringing up more positive examples and suggestions. Some of the items recently sold at Jihlava Zoo, including a saola keychain, were still kinda unique.
     
    Last edited: 29 Jul 2016
  6. sooty mangabey

    sooty mangabey Well-Known Member

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    One positive note in amongst the pessimism (which I share): Prague has several small shops, rather than one big one, and in these can be found nice tee shirts, good mugs, unique postcards, and an impressive range of publications - guidebooks, journals, historical books. As in many other areas, Prague does shops well!

    In the UK, the shops of the WWT are usually strong: still selling "gifts", predominantly, but rather nicer gifts than the old rubbish on sale at most zoos. And they have decent books too.

    The best UK shop in the past was the bookshop at Birdworld, Farnham, which was an excellent, specialist store: for example, I saw my first copies of the early volumes of the Handbook of the Birds of the World there. Sadly, but inevitably, it is long gone.

    And, finally, another shout for the kiosk at Berlin Tierpark - the best garden shed in Europe!
     
  7. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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  8. Merintia

    Merintia Active Member

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    Totally agree. And I find particulary worriyng the fact that even educative toys for children are so hard to find in those shops. I remember years ago, when my visits to zoos always ended with a new book on my bookcase. Now even can be difficult to find good guides. One of my biggest dissapointments was Valencia Oceanografic. As a fan of cetaceans, and having this park dolphins and beluga whales, I thought my visit there whould be a problem for my bucket. Big mistake: not even an interesting book, or a realistic figurine (a collect them). And they have a shop entirely dedicate to dolphins and another to Artic, but both full of the same stuff you can find on any bazaar. Although I also have to say that I visited it about 10 years ago, so things could have changed a lot. On the oposite, the closer Science Museum had a very good shop with lot of educative toys for kids and very beautiful cetacean figurines.

    I had the same experience, for me Walsorde have the best gift shop I have seen lately. I had to made a big self-control effort to don´t buy those plush Shoebill and Harpy :rolleyes: . And that shop is also the only place where I have seen on sale the HBW collection, apart of the Barcelona bookstore where I usually got them.

    Another shop I enjoyed was SeaWorld, although in this case because I´m an orca fanatic XD. Finally I only got a pair of typical souvenirs, but mainly because my luggage was already on the limit. I still dream with those giant plush orcas :D
     
  9. zoomaniac

    zoomaniac Well-Known Member

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    @Batto: I see it the same way. Fortunately, my hometown Zoo Zurich has published a new zoo guide (or rather a thick book) recently. So we keep the flag on the top;)

    @Arizona Docent: Arizona Sonora Desert Museum has "a huge selection of ADULT BOOKS"? Really? So we can find Jenna Jameson on the cover of one of them...:)?? - Sorry, but I couldn't resist.
     
  10. Crowthorne

    Crowthorne Well-Known Member

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    ZSL London still has a very small book section, but it isn’t as good as it was even two years ago, and nowhere near as good as 15 years ago. The little book section is mostly photography books, but they do sell copies of John Edward’s ‘London Zoo from Old Photographs’. Most of the shop is dedicated to fluffy animals, which was fun at first (I added two Malay Tapirs and a Giant Anteater to my collection :D ), but now its just all the same stuff. Go at the right time though and their sale area can be quite good; have got some nice jewellery there a couple of times now. ZSL Whipsnade’s shop is also fluffy-animal heavy, with even fewer books. The ZSL sites do swap stock occasionally, so what doesn’t sell at one goes for sale stock at the other ;)

    One thing I do really like picking up at zoos now is canvas bags. My favourite has to be the one I got at Shaldon; it is strong, well made and carries a lot. ZSL used to make really good, strong, heavy-duty canvas bags, but they don't seem to make those anymore, they only seem to stock the thinner type now.
     
  11. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    Ah yes, I had completely forgotten the WWT giftshops - I heartily agree with your evaluation; even a " minor" example such as the one at Washington contained literally scores of specialist volumes I would love to own, were my pockets deeper ;)
     
  12. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    Duly noted, as this is a book I would very much like to own! One hopes it will still be sold when next I visit London!
     
  13. lowland anoa

    lowland anoa Well-Known Member

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    I agree with TLD on his comment on Edinburgh Zoo's gift shop. There are pandas pretty everywhere. And before it, there were many good items that you could almost buy them all! :(
     
  14. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

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    Do not forget, when I stayed in your city last year I accidentally stayed in the red light district! :D
     
  15. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

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    As for Edinburgh Zoo, it is the only zoo gift shop I have ever seen with kilts for sale.

    As for guide books, Phoenix Zoo in my state has a new guide book (which I purchased last week). I have been visiting them for 20 years and this is the first time they have had one. Definitely a good sign, but overall USA zoos do not publish guidebooks as much as European zoos do.
     
  16. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

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    I think Japanese collections deserve a mention as they do quite well in this domain. I've seen plush garden eels and deep sea isopods, sawfish magnets and model mantas. There tend to be one or two books around, and usually a selection of postcards too.

    Although there's not much for the collecting enthusiast there's plenty to see and buy for everyone else. I collect zoo/aquarium snowglobes and although I didn't find any in Japan, I didn't see glass snowglobes for sale at all during my trip. :)

    http://www.zoochat.com/740/sawfish-magnets-epson-aqua-park-february-441466/
    http://www.zoochat.com/740/gift-shop-epson-aqua-park-february-441405/
    http://www.zoochat.com/740/tuna-toys-tokyo-sea-life-park-440649/
     
  17. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    It's also worth noting that museum giftshops are generally classier than those in zoos, so zoo-museum hybrids can be a good bet. The California Academy of Science, for instance, has a range of popular science (both the obvious and less so), as well as books on the construction of the new building and the history of Steinhart Aquarium.

    Which reminds me, actually, the Monterey Bay Aquarium had a real obsession with 'Art Forms in Nature' by Ernst Haeckel. Copies were advertised all over the place. Anyone know why a Californian aquarium was so keen on a turn-of-the-century volume of German prints? The Jellies exhibit perhaps? I'm not complaining; just seemed odd.
     
  18. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    Reading this, I was definitely thinking that zoo gift shops should be a bit more like museum gift shops, ha ha. Houston Museum of Natural Science has no shortage of books, models, posters, science kits, and other more educational and older buyer type of items. I guess since zoos tend to focus more on kids, their gift shops reflect that.

    At 23, I'm not old enough to remember the golden era of zoo gift shops that you guys describe, ha ha. Zoos I go to seem to mostly sell toys, T-shirts, and cheap jewelry. At the very least, I like it when zoos make an effort to sell toys/merchandise of animals in their collections, rather than solely selling popular animal toys. I don't really buy stuffed animals any more, but the Houston Zoo sells these red river hog plush toys that are extremely tempting. (THEY'RE JUST SO CUTE) They've also sold some white alligator toys, wonder if they'll keep those around now that their white gator is being moved.

    San Antonio Zoo was mostly the usual stuff, but they had a few cool things. They had earrings made from quills shed by their porcupine, I regret not buying those before moving. When they had their two-headed turtle, they sold some hand-crafted, hand-painted figures of said turtle, those were pretty neat.

    Hey, speaking of books... Wouldn't it be cool if zoos selling books in their gift shops promoted them by having the author come over and do a talk or something?
     
  19. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

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    As an author of a zoo book (with some experience in public speaking), yes I think that would be very cool!
     
  20. jayjds2

    jayjds2 Well-Known Member

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    I agree that a lot of zoo/aquarium gift shops aren't the best. I was pleasantly surprised by that of the Florida Aquarium. They had several books, and I walked away with two. One was a fictional book- the first in a series which I have now purchased the rest of- and the other was a pocket guide to sharks. I also see degrading quality in many tee shirts that are for sale. However, I walked away from the same aquarium with two.
    The second book of the fictional series I mentioned earlier in my post was debuted to the world by an underwater reading of it in the Florida Aquarium's shark tank. Not quite the same, but draws publicity to both book and aquarium.