This would sound strange, but a top Russian museum, one of the largest (more than 3 million items) and oldest (founded in 1764) museums of the world, pride and joy of Russian art lovers – the State Hermitage Museum – didn’t have a proper museum shop that you can enter without entering the museum up until 2015. Museeum went to St. Petersburg to see the new shop first-hand.
In 2014, the Hermitage opened its new building. Actually it is not “new”. The General Staff Building, was erected according to architect K.I. Rossi’s design in 1820-1828. Before the 1917 Revolution it housed Russian supreme state authorities.
During the Soviet era numerous organizations had offices in the General Staff Building, finally it was transferred into the ownership of the Hermitage. After a lengthy restoration period, the historic ministerial building became a 21st century museum complex. Architectural Bureau Studio 44, that designed the project, foresaw a cozy space for a museum shop.
Be aware that the entrance differs from a usual museum entrance. Go to Palace Square 6-8 and don’t expect it to look like the main Hermitage building passage, keep in mind: it was designed for military ministers and they didn’t like to draw much attention. Enter the museum, walk right to the tickets desk and you will see the shop in front of it. When you enter the shop it seems like it has nothing to do with the grand Rossi’s building. A modern space, where you can look for art history books using the ladder (you actually have to ask the staff), find products related to exhibitions, go through a small, but nice selection of accessories, including items produced exclusively for the Hermitage (Moleskins, t-shirts, tote bags, umbrellas, etc.). The Hermitage clearly loves cats: children’s section was filled with products and souvenirs depicting cats. We loved the iPhone “inspired by” cases series. When we were there the shop only had Van Gough case available, but usually there are more to choose from. We missed the jewelry, crockery and many other products that are presented in the Hermitage online shop, but aren’t available in the General Staff Building store.
Eugene, the manager, seller and the only staff member was very friendly and helpful. He talked to the guests, made some thoughtful suggestions and it seemed like it was his own store, which he cherishes. On one hand it’s great: as a guest you feel special in a grand museum, but Eugene was there alone because the Hermitage shop is not that big, 30 or 40 m2 (300-400 ft2), not much space to display all the wonderful things the online shop can offer. As more people start coming in, it is becoming too crowded.
Eugene showed us the book that he is reading now: “Bicycle: the History” by David Herlihy. It is standing on one of the top shelves and it is not about art per se, but it is an interesting book about 20th century evolution of movement. And we hope that the Hermitage Shop will move on, grow and display more products, books, reproductions, phone cases, souvenirs, but keep the spirit. The spirit of a “local” shop, where Eugene and his colleagues know your taste and suggest something new every time you drop by.