Visitor center shops to combine?

Published 12:03 am Friday, January 8, 2016

Debra and Pete Mulcahy, visiting from Anchorage, Alaska, walk in the Eastern National bookstore at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center Thursday. (Tim Givens/The Natchez Democrat)

Debra and Pete Mulcahy, visiting from Anchorage, Alaska, walk in the Eastern National bookstore at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center Thursday. (Tim Givens/The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Visitor Reception Center may soon combine its two retail spaces into one — The Natchez Shop.

Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Kevin Kirby appeared before the board of aldermen Monday to request approval to essentially consolidate the CVB’s logo gift shop with the National Park Service’s Eastern National bookstore at the visitor center.

Both retail spaces would be combined into the current Eastern National space, and given a new name — The Natchez Shop.

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The CVB’s existing logo shop sells a variety of items, including T-shirts and other clothing, coffee mugs, jewelry, food and other merchandise.

Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond said Wednesday the Eastern National bookstore functions similar to a museum shop and carries items specifically related to the park in which they are located.

“They’re a nonprofit institution, and all the merchandise has to relate back to the theme, which in our case is Natchez history,” Bond said.

Kirby told the aldermen the Eastern National bookstore has a larger vendor base to which the CVB does not have access. Eastern National, however, does not carry items such as official Natchez logo T-shirts and trinkets in stock at the logo shop

Bond said The Natchez Shop would carry some, but not all of those logo items.

“Eastern National is much more narrowly focused,” Bond said. “It won’t be so much just like a gift shop.”

Kirby presented a letter of agreement to the board to allow The Natchez Shop to sell Tricentennial and city logo items. The CVB would retain guardianship of items sold with the Visit Natchez or Tricentennial logo, and Kirby said he would review those items.

Bond said the city might also invest in a redesign of the retail space inside the existing park bookstore.

The Melrose and William Johnson House parks have similar arrangements with Eastern National, Bond said.

At Monday’s meeting, Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery made a motion to table Kirby’s request until the board’s Jan. 26 meeting after voicing concerns about the lack of information the board received on the issue. Fortenbery said the aldermen were given the information last minute and had not had time to properly review it.

Fortenbery said he would like more information about whether logo shop staff would be laid off and the reasons behind wanting to combine the logo shop with Eastern National.

Kirby said logo shop staff would work other assignments at the CVB, such as helping visitors at the welcome desks.

When the CVB experiences a high volume of visitors, Kirby said at the meeting, the logo shop is sometimes unattended because staff is needed to help visitors. The new arrangement would allow the CVB to focus its staff on helping visitors, especially during the tricentennial year when more visitors are expected, Kirby said.

Bond said no city employees would be operating The Natchez Shop under the consolidated arrangement.

The CVB is on a time crunch to make a decision, Kirby told the aldermen, because Eastern National would be revamping its space and wanted to complete that before Spring Pilgrimage.

Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery said he still wanted to take more time to consider the request.

“I appreciate if you would understand my position of wanting a little bit more information,” Fortenbery said. “We don’t see a budget (from the CVB) anymore, and this is the first time I’ve seen you in a meeting in a while. I need to do my homework before (I make a decision.)”

Kirby did not return requests for comment Wednesday.

Lindsey Shelton contributed to this report.