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Museum Attendance Varies After Reopening

Photo by Scott McCloskey West Virginia Independence Hall Site Manager Debbie Jones said the museum has seen only a trickle of visitors each day since its reopening June 20.

Museums may be open to the public — with restrictions — once again, but attendance at the museums vary wildly as people emerge from their homes in a COVID-19 climate.

Moundsville’s Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex experienced a great first day on June 20, when state-owned museums across West Virginia reopened their doors. Site Manager Jeremy Kohus reported that 146 people came to the complex on their first day, and in the week after, they averaged around 50 visitors per day.

“We’ve been non-stop busy,” Kohus said. “We have been as busy as we were in a non-COVID environment.”

The crowds were kept spaced out and guided with flow arrows on the floor to keep people moving in the same direction. Masks are suggested but not required, and the facility closes a half-hour early to begin cleaning.

On the flip side, West Virginia’s Independence Hall has seen only a trickle of visitors since reopening on June 20. Site Manager Debbie Jones said that without the usual influx of tour groups and student field trips, the last weeks of June were a slow period for the museum dedicated to West Virginia’s first capitol.

“We’ve had about a dozen or so people come by,” Jones said. “Attendance is definitely down (from other years). We’d get the Diamond Tours buses from Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio; all the schools through April and May, all those are canceled. But we’re hoping some will pick back up — some schools come in the fall, some in the spring.”

Aside from the normal large groups, the vast majority of visits come from travelers who pass by the city.

“A lot of people we get here, 90% are just people coming through on the interstate, who read about or have seen this.”

With the low number of visitors, Jones said social distancing, though being enforced, hasn’t been a problem.

That said, visitors are asked to sign in with a log book to better aid in contact tracing, and a thermometer is used on guests who say they have exhibited some symptoms.

While the museum was closed for three months, Jones said the staff became intimately acquainted with the procedures for cleaning their numerous exhibits, and that care in cleaning continues now that their doors are open.

“All we had to do for 90 days was clean the museum,” she said. “Everything has been cleaned from top to bottom.”

Bellaire’s Toy and Plastic Brick Museum, also known as the Unofficial LEGO Museum, is similarly experiencing a slump. Though the museum reopened on May 16, owner Carol Brown said they did not see their first customer until June, and even then, visitor numbers have dropped to half or less from previous years.

“During the entire month of May, we had no one. Since June hit, we’re finally starting to get a little busier, but we’re still at least half the amount we usually get, maybe less,” Brown said.

A typical week in other years saw maybe $1,000 in sales, Brown said, but that has been reduced to hundreds, if that, this summer. This has placed financial pressure on the privately-owned museum, and Brown said they’re looking into applying for aid from the government.

“I heard, for people suffering because of COVID, they could get relief from the government, so we … are going to be looking into that.”

Brown said tours used to come in around one per hour, but that number, too, has fallen off in recent weeks.

“We’ve got bills to pay. Electricity isn’t free, and we try to keep our power off as much as possible, at least until our first tour. That helps a little bit, but if we’re not getting anyone for the rest of the day,” Brown said.

Elsewhere in the county, the Belmont County Heritage Museum remains closed, according to Executive Director Barb Ballint, while the Belmont County Tourism Council sees how COVID-19 develops through the month.

“We’re going to see what July has in store for us,” Ballint said.

The Belmont County Victorian Mansion Museum is also available for tours by appointment only, while otherwise closed to walk-ins.

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