The Sursock Museum Store of Beirut: An Oasis of Beauty and Discovery

Nélida Nassar   02.25.2016   

The Sursock Museum of Beirut has recently opened after a renovation and addition of exquisite building and finishing qualities. The museum’s store is among the best museum shop in the country. It features architectural, classical, and modern design-inspired gifts, building kits, toys, housewares, one of a kind jewelry, and engaging books. Art and Culture Today sat down with shop manager Roula Comity and asked how she selects the inventory and keeps the accolades coming.

NN: Mrs. Roula Comati, can you tell us a little about your background? What attracted you to retail?
RC: Having completed a graduate degree in literature, I taught at several Lebanese secondary schools: the International College, the College Louise Wegmann, and the Grand Lycée Franco-Libanais French literature. I emigrated to Canada and taught at a private school in Montreal. Upon leaving the academic field, I opened in Ain el Mreisseh a boutique called Saya that sold objects exclusively created by Lebanese designers. During the July 2006 war, I closed the store. All along I also acted as editor to two magazines: a design
and architecture one named Harmonies and a culinary one called Sucré Salé. Having previously owned a boutique and having worked in upscale stores in Beirut and Montreal, retail was already part of my DNA. I also love the contact with the customers. I have been seduced by the position of responsibility a prestigious shop such as the Sursock Museum Store requires as well as working on a daily basis in such a beautiful setting.

NN: When did you begin working at the Sursock Museum Store?
RC: Since early September 2015, I have been involved in the preparations that preceded the reopening of the museum and the launching of the shop that took place on October 9th of that year.

NN: The Sursock Museum mission says that it strives to “advance the quality of the art by educating people about its impact on their lives.” In what ways does the Museum Store work towards that goal?
RC: The store first goal is to reinforce the museum’s mission by familiarizing the larger public with the arts in their various forms. The store’s profits are intended to benefit
the museum.

NN: The Sursock Museum Store has such an amazing selection of items! Can you walk us through a bit of the process for selecting products?
RC: A committee of five dynamic individuals – Omar Daouk, Karim Khouri, Line Kassar, Nour Salamé and Youmna Ariss – is responsible for the selection of the pieces sold in the store. The items are initially proposed by the local designers and are inspired from the museum’s art. The store’s aim is to sustain and act as a platform for these Lebanese designers selling their goods on the museum’s premises.

NN: The Museum hosts a number of lectures, often with book signings, as well as other events. How is the Sursock Museum Store involved in those occasions?
RC: Since its opening few months ago, the store has already organized two book signings, the third one will take place on March 2, 2016.

NN: Does the merchandise change according to the season? Did the Sursock Museum Shop prepare anything special for the Spring/Summer season?
RC: Our objective is to constantly and regularly offer new merchandize and especially to give a chance to several local designers to present their work. Special holidays are taken into consideration and are celebrated but rather discretely.

NN: Does the Sursock Museum Store target a specific clientele and which one?
RC: The Museum store targets a very diverse clientele: first and foremost art lovers but also visiting tourists, students, schoolchildren or simply customers seeking a beautiful object to purchase.

NN: Is the general public kept in mind to be able to find affordable pieces to buy in the Sursock Museum Store and in what price range?
RC: Prices vary tremendously from $1.00 to $2,000. However, we are very committed to having the largest range of articles be accessible to the wider number of customers.

NN: How do you see the Sursock Museum Store Evolving?
RC: Appealing and retaining the local clientele is one of our goals but also attracting as many visitors as possible to the Sursock museum – this oasis of beauty – is a must. The store is primarily intended to complete the museum’s unforgettable tour. Following their visit to the museum, customers are invited 
and seduced to take home from this magical space, memorable objects proposed to them as souvenirs.

NN: How do you position the Sursock Museum Shop among the other museum shops of Lebanon? How are you different?
RC: The Sursock Museum Shop is required to offer objects that are exclusive and functional at the same time. They are in accordance with the museum’s philosophy of spreading the appreciation of contemporary art to the largest group of Lebanese citizens and foreign visitors. The store has its warm welcome extended equally to all its visitors by a dedicated team of three individuals running its operations: Walid Kadi, Nada Harb, and myself. We insist on transmit a joyful as well as a professional atmosphere.