Children’s Museum

Summer Zeug, then 5, of Chippewa Falls cooked food for her mom, Sara Zeug, during a 2018 visit to the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire. The museum will close indefinitely Saturday because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Children's Museum of Eau Claire announced Tuesday it will once again close to the public indefinitely at 3 p.m. Saturday.

The museum previously was closed from March 16 through July 6 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael McHorney, CMEC’s executive director, said he is disappointed the museum has to close but indicated the decision is necessary for financial reasons.

“We knew when the decision was made to reopen that it was done so we could get back to serving the community through play and not going to be for financial benefit. However, we didn’t think it’d be like this,” McHorney said in a news release, apparently referring to the low attendance since the museum reopened this month with a mandatory mask policy for all guests age 6 and older.

During July 2020, CMEC is losing an average of $1,272 per day. At that pace, CMEC would run out of cash to operate around the middle of January 2021. CMEC officials had hoped to operate at about 50% of earned revenue compared with 2019, but indicated that in July the facility has earned only 14% of the revenue it took in during the same month last year.

“By making this strategic move immediately, we hope to enter the beginning of 2021 with enough cash on hand to operate at a time when children and grownups may need us more than they do now,” McHorney said.

CMEC plans to reduce operating expenses by 62% to stay afloat. Museum officials hope to retain five salaried employees through participating in the state Department of Workforce Development’s Work Share program. If not approved, CMEC's board of directors may have to determine additional reductions. The museum started 2020 with 14 employees.

“CMEC’s employees are selfless and through this pandemic their selflessness has been on full display," McHorney said. "All employees changed their day-to-day roles from what they were to primarily cleaning and disinfecting the museum this last month to allow children to play and be safe.”

When salaried employees were asked, not one of them felt the museum should remain open given its financial difficulties, he said.

"Without being asked, every single one of them offered up their position first, if it came to that, instead of one of their colleagues having to lose their position,” McHorney said.

CMEC officials said in the news release that their focus is to be good stewards of the assets entrusted to them by the community and to encourage play in a different way while the building is closed. By the end of August, the museum said information will be provided to patrons with annual memberships on how their membership will be structured moving forward.

"CMEC will be here to serve the community when it is a better environment for social play rather than social distancing," the museum said in the release, while also encouraging community residents to continue to follow the lead of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department and to wear masks whenever in public to help control the spread of the virus.