The Computer History Museum invited me in for a private tour of their gift shop last month. I’ve been to the gift shop plenty of times before, and it’s one of my favorite places to send people when they want souvenirs of our city, but I had never been been honored with the official tour, so I was thrilled.
First thing I need to mention is that you do not have to buy a ticket to the museum in order to see the gift shop. Same thing goes for the cute little cafe beside the gift shop.
Sandra Shu-Lee is the Retail Services Manager and every single item in the 1400 sq. ft of store is thoughtfully curated to acknowledge the history of the valley. The merchandise selection has a sense of humor and much of it can’t be found any place else.
T-shirts are the standard uniform here in Silicon Valley and if you want the good ones, this is definitely the place to go. They also have womens, kids and baby sizes. I noticed one t-shirt that says “Hacker” and I thought about the evolution of that word and how much I learned from watching Mr. Robot.
While Sandra was showing me around the store, she mentioned that they tested the words “Mountain View” and “Silicon Valley” on t-shirts and that “Silicon Valley” was the clear winner. I love that they thought about this and listened to what customers had to say.
The gift shop has artful images of artifacts that are beautiful, small posters. I like that they have small versions of posters, since many of us live and work in small spaces. The photos are from Mark Richards, official photographer for the museum. His images are also on journals, postcards and throughout the museum.
Yes, postcards. The Chamber of Commerce (that’s where my office is) often has visitors wander in who are looking for postcards to send. It’s hard to find a postcard in this digital world, but now I know where to send people. Sandra told me that they’re actually a collectible item and that most of her customers don’t go to the trouble of finding a stamp and sending them. They simply collect.
They have a fabulous selection of books about and by Silicon Valley authors, the inside scoop by top tech leaders, the people who inspire us to bend the rules, and question everything. There is also a nice selection of children’s books.
I got an adorable stuffed emoji for everyone in my office. One officemate asked for the pile-of-poop one, when she saw that I was handing out yellow smiley faces. Sadly, it was sold out already.
They have the official Silicon Valley cocktail napkins. Here’s the story:
“A cocktail napkin from Walker's Wagon Wheel circa late 1980s. It is designed so that a prospective entrepreneur need only complete the check boxes in order to have a business plan ready to present to a venture capitalist for funding.
The napkin designer/entrepreneur Bob Zeidman tells the following story about its creation. In 1986 he created the Silicon Valley Napkin and began marketing and selling it. The printer required minimum print runs in the thousands, so Bob had boxes stacked to the ceiling in the kitchen of his one-bedroom apartment. By 1990, the napkin had run its course, and he still had boxes left. He approached The Garage, the precursor to the Tech Museum, to make a napkin donation. They were excited to have the napkins at their invitation-only, kickoff donor event, and Bob was glad to supply them.
Afterwards, he thought maybe he could get invited to the gala event and impress his girlfriend by hobnobbing with the Silicon Valley bigwigs. The Garage invited them, and they mingled with, among others, Andy Grove, Ed Zschau, and Margaret Wozniak (filling in for her son Steve who couldn't make it at the last minute). Sitting at the table Bob asked the man on his right what he did for a living. He waved his arms around his head, "embracing" the room, and said his company had designed the museum's interior space. Cool! Then he turned to the man on my left and asked him what he did for a living. He was the founder and CEO of a biotech firm in Berkeley. Wow! They both asked me what he did and, a little sheepishly, he picked up a napkin, proclaimed that he had supplied the napkins for tonight's event, as wiped the béarnaise sauce from his mouth. As a footnote, the girlfriend is now the wife.”
There are also gorgeous one-of-a-kind baskets, jewelry and clocks, all made out of colorful computer parts in the gift shop, breathtaking little works of art that would surely be cherished by the recipient.
This gift shop is really special, and the prices are fair and not at all like those you would usually see in a museum gift shop. It is certainly one of the perfect places to bring your out-of-town visitors, or to find the perfect gift for your favorite Silicon Valley (and beyond) geek. I love Mountain View.