The $5 fee for a family of four to enter the Museum of Northwest Colorado stopped one family in their tracks -- they had visited the museum on previous occasions and didn't expect to see the new use fee. They paid without complaint.
But other visitors have refused to patronize the museum after about the newly imposed entrance fee, said Jan Gerber, museum assistant.
In January, the museum began charging for admission and closed its doors on Saturdays, because the Board of County Commissioners cut $70,000 from the museum budget to balance the county's 2004 budget. Since then, museum attendance has decreased by 28 percent over 2003. That drop in attendance has had an adverse effect on downtown business, shopkeepers say.
Yvonne Gerber of Favorite Things, an antique shop adjacent to the museum, couldn't quantify the effect the loss of Saturday museum hours has had on local businesses, but she's witnessed negative impacts herself.
Tourists from Steamboat Springs and towns farther away, frustrated after a long drive, have walked into Favorite Things and demanded to know why the museum isn't open on a Saturday. It happens once or twice every weekend, Yvonne Gerber said.
"It puts a bad taste in their mouth, sort of like they had bad service in a store," Yvonne Gerber said. She worries that visitors will not want to return to Craig after a bad experience.
But on days when the museum is open, the antique shop's location has been ideal. After exploring the museum, visitors can walk next to door to browse Favorite Things' antiques, before heading one door down to Serendipity Coffee Shop for a cup of Java or lunch.
The museum's website and advertisements have yet to be updated with the change in hours and admission fees.
That's partially a function of time and expense, said Dan Davidson, museum director. Since the museum's part-time staff was cut, Davidson and Jan Gerber, the only remaining employees, have had to perform a variety of duties ranging from greeting visitors to cleaning bathrooms, and they are pressed for time to perform all the necessary responsibilities. Updating brochures costs time and money, both of which are limited this year.
An annual museum pass currently costs $20. Some regular users of the museum, including a craft group that meets in the basement, can't afford that price, said Davidson. At the March 8 Board of County Commissioner meeting, Davidson plans to request that the commissioners drop the pass fee to $10, a number he feels is more economic for museum visitors.
Decreasing attendance and donations have prompted Davidson to look for new ways to increase museum revenue to keep the doors open more often. One idea is to hold sponsor days at the museum. For $75, an individual or business can keep the museum open on a Saturday, and in turn the museum will advertise that the said business paid for the building to remain open. Sponsorship donors will be eligible for a 25 percent accreditation on income tax, Davidson said. Generous businesses or individuals can donate $300 to keep the museum open for a month's worth of Saturdays.
The $75 donation will pay for personnel expenses and minimal operating costs. Admission fees will still apply, but sponsors will receive complimentary day passes to distribute as they see fit.
Davidson would also like to keep the museum open during special events in Craig. During the Art Walk on Valentine's Day, the museum was open free of charge and was full of visitors who explored museum items as closely as they did any artist's work. Museum sponsorships will hopefully be able to keep the building open during events such as Grand Olde West Days, Davidson said.
Winter is traditionally the slowest time of year for the museum. Davidson said he hopes to have the sponsorship program in place by April, when business begins to pick up more.
For more information about the museum's fees or operating hours, or to make a donation, call (970) 824-6360.
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.