New England Aquarium Gift Shop. Photo by Vanessa Kahn.

Gift Shop Plus Spring 2023
Maritime mementos: New England Aquarium gift shop rounds out visitor experience By Carly McFadden

Destination gift shops should reflect the experience they represent, and the New England Aquarium Gift Shop aims to do just that.

All photos by Vanessa Kahn.
All gift shop proceeds go directly toward conservation and research efforts, as well as operational needs of the aquarium. All photos by Vanessa Kahn.

The New England Aquarium is located in Boston and opened in 1969. Today, the destination attracts 1.3 million visitors yearly. The gift shop is located in tandem with the aquarium and features an e-commerce site for online shopping, as well.

The gift shop has taken care to tailor its product selection to the residential aquatic life and commit to sustainability, carrying the mission of the aquarium through to the very end of the visitor experience.

According to Rafe Bragg, store director of the New England Aquarium Gift Shop, the shop’s mission is the same as that of the aquarium: “to be a catalyst for global change through public engagement, commitment to marine animal conservation, leadership in education, innovative scientific research and effective advocacy for vital and vibrant oceans.”

The gift shop offers a range of products for visitors — adults and children alike. Additionally, Its e-commerce site features a special section dedicated to eco-friendly and sustainable products, including unique items such as wooden ornaments, reusable makeup wipes and a sewn notebook collection.

The gift shop offers plush and toys, as well as apparel, home décor and jewelry.
The gift shop offers plush and toys, as well as apparel, home décor and jewelry.

“We offer a wide variety of items, from sustainably designed plush to toys made from recycled materials, to apparel and home [goods],” Bragg said. “Everything selected is intended to showcase our mission and highlight our key marque species — penguins, sea turtles, sea lions, sharks, North Atlantic Right Whales, as well as items that support a more sustainable lifestyle for our guests.”

A gift shop is typically the final stop on a visitor’s tour, and the New England Aquarium Gift Shop takes that to heart. It aims to round out the experience by customizing and tailoring its products to the actual animals that visitors passed by.

“When guests visit, they often make a connection with one or more of the animals they see, so having items that line up with their experience is key,” Bragg said. “We recently brought in [a] custom-designed white whale plush and that has become a big hit with guests. We also offer paintings done by our beloved seal residents.”

Education and inspiration is a goal of the aquarium, and its gift shop offers resources for adults and children alike.
Education and inspiration is a goal of the aquarium, and its gift shop offers resources for adults and children alike.

With conservation top of mind, all gift shop proceeds go directly to support conservation and research efforts, as well as the operational needs of the aquarium. Additionally, the gift shop has taken a plastic-free approach by eliminating the use of plastics in its store fixtures or displays and partners with vendors that have committed to sustainable operations.

“Our product assortment is carefully curated to support [our mission], with plush offerings made using 100% PET recycled bottle fillings to reusable bags and water bottles,” Bragg said. “Purchases from the gift shop not only support the aquarium, but many items contribute to broader causes, helping remove trash from our oceans and waterways.”

Ultimately, the gift shop’s goal is to inspire visitors to educate themselves about ocean and wildlife conservation, taking a fresh perspective with them when they exit the aquarium doors.

“We provide visitors an opportunity to see, experience and engage with our aquatic world, hopefully inspiring them to learn about what they can do to help protect and preserve our blue planet,” Bragg concluded.

Carly McFadden

Carly McFadden is the managing editor for Gift Shop Plus, Stationery Trends and a variety of special issue publications, including: The Guide, Holiday Shop, Celebrations & Occasions and Waterfront Living.

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