The Speed Art Museum is planning to close its retail shop and lay off all four of the shop’s employees, according to an email sent to staff on Friday, Dec. 1, by Speed interim director Stephen Reily. The contents of the email were shared with Insider Louisville by a third party via a private message.
In a phone interview on Sunday, Reily confirmed the closure, layoffs and the email.
This is the second substantial round of layoffs since the Speed reopened in March of 2016 after a huge renovation project, with a price tag of $60 million.
The first round of layoffs came in August 2016, just five months after the Speed’s reopening, when seven employees were let go.
It is unclear if the layoff of museum store and staff indicates larger financial concerns for the museum.
Reily denied financial troubles, saying attendance is great and the layoffs indicated a fine-tuning of resources and offerings.
“We’ve been very clear that the first year after reopening, our visitors were up 75 percent over the years before we closed, so we’re delighted with traffic,” said Reily.
He went on to say the Speed’s after-hours events had pulled in 2,300 guests over its initial two iterations, and that Speed Cinema is bringing in thousands of people who have never been to the museum.
“It’s just a really appropriate time within all that for a careful evaluation of what’s succeeding really well and what needs adjustment,” Reily said.
The email’s language indicated that layoffs would not occur till January. Employees are being asked to stay on while the museum transitions the space. The email praises the retail staff, stating that poor sales were due to other factors, rather than the staff’s performance.
“After six months reviewing our store sales and data, I am convinced that the current model cannot generate net income, which is our goal. This is not because our colleagues are not achieving the best results possible,” stated the email.
Reily partially pinned the blame on a glut of shopping choices for patrons, which made the Speed’s attempt to host a large retail operation unsustainable.
“One of the things we’ve seen is the store opened with a very ambitious plan, in many thousands of square feet, with a fully devoted staff, in a retail strategy that was trying to offer something for everyone — several thousands of products for sale, in dozens of different categories,” said Reily.
He added that visitors didn’t embrace the retail space.
“The community and our visitors aren’t really rewarding us for that kind of offering,” he said. “There’s lots of other options to shop for apparel and jewelry and gifts in Louisville, so the Speed does not need to be everything to everybody in retail.”
A committee made up of Speed board members, called the Space Activation Committee, will be reviewing possible uses for the space freed up by the museum store’s closure.