Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Catalog in Limbo

Until investment capital comes through, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has ceased mailing its gifts catalog. The last book mailed in early December.

“But I’m not sure I’d characterize the catalog as being on hold,” says Joseph Gadja, president/CEO of Museum Enterprise Partners (MEP), the for-profit company that operates the museum’s five stores, online shop, and wholesale business. “We’re making catalog plans for fall/holiday. We are prepared to move forward once the financing is in place.”

The museum formed Avon, MA-based MEP in 2001. The company began its quest for investment capital to finance catalog operations soon after. MEP sells books, calendars, jewelry, home accessories, and gifts related to museum exhibitions.

“When the business formed,” Gajda explains, “the intent was to subsequently seek outside investment that would allow Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to be a client, as opposed to being both client and investor.”

While MEP is in the midst of recapitalizing, its retail, Web, and wholesale businesses continue to operate. “But we’re seeking investment for the entire company to allow us to grow,” Gajda says. The catalog’s future depends on MEP’s ability to raise capital.

Though he won’t provide specific figures, Gajda acknowledges that MEP cut circulation for each of its catalog mailings last year. The company also laid off several employees last year, including a handful of people this past fall.

In May 2001, when Catalog Age reported on the Museum of Fine Arts Boston’s move to create a for-profit catalog/Web/retail entity, Gajda said that the MEP’s overall merchandise sales at the time were $40 million. Of that, $18 million was from the catalog, $18 million came from the stores, $2 million from online sales, and $2 million through the wholesale unit.

MEP is looking for an investor familiar with the needs, systems, and other matters a catalog operation requires, he says. Once the capital does come through, not only would MEP like to grow the catalog/Web business, but it also wants to be able to provide similar catalog marketing services to other museums. Gajda won’t comment on how close — if at all — the company is to finding an investor. He does say, though, that the company is having an “active discussion” with at least one potential investor.

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