Public TV station starts chain of stores

April 29, 1992|By New York Times News Service

BOSTON -- WGBH, the Boston public television station that brings "Nova," "Masterpiece Theater" and "Evening at Pops" to America's living rooms, has opened a store in an effort to raise more money for its innovative television projects.

The store, WGBH Learningsmith, has already become a popular stop in the affluent Chestnut Hill Mall in Newton, Mass., since it opened in October. It has been so successful that another store will open in Harvard Square in June, with a third store planned later this year.

Other public television stations like WNET in New York and KCET in Los Angeles have expressed interest in similar ventures. Though no deals have been reached yet, WGBH believes the Learningsmith concept can succeed nationwide.

Throughout the store are items produced by or related to WGBH, which owns a minority stake in the retailer.

Videotapes of WGBH series like the science series "Nova" and books related to series like "The Machine That Changed the World" are offered for sale along with more than 11,000 educational games, toys, art supplies and crafts. Books and videos of other public television series like "Sesame Street" and "The Civil War" are also for sale.

Marshall Smith, a Boston entrepreneur, put up most of the money to finance the store. WGBH is a minority investor, licensing its name to Smith in return for royalties.

WGBH members are given a 10 percent discount on purchases and the store signs up new members for the station.

Karen Johnson, the director of publishing and product merchandising at WGBH, came up with the idea for the store nearly two years ago after she learned that Australian Broadcasting Corp. had started its own chain of stores that sold merchandise related to its programs. The concept appealed to Ms. Johnson and she received the support of WGBH's management to develop it.

"What was clear from the beginning was that the store should be run by people who know how to run a store," Ms. Johnson said. "There was no way on earth we or any other PBS station could do this on our own."

Ms. Johnson contacted Mr. Smith, who had run his own chain of bookstores and video stores and was looking for a way to start another store. He flew to Australia to see what Australian Broadcasting was doing and then came back with his own vision: A store that sold products that emphasize learning.

"They loved it," he said. "It fit well with their basic mission."

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