When COVID-19 struck in 2020, closing down the Wausau Center mall, it had a huge impact on the businesses still left in the space.
But for some, it turned out to be an opportunity.
One of those businesses whose owners saw opportunity was the Greater Wausau Children’s Museum. The business appears to be thriving at its new location in the Cedar Creek Mall in Rothschild.
Greater Wausau Children’s Museum owner Shelly Bovet told City Pages when the pandemic closed the mall, it caused them to start looking around for other spaces. The business had outgrown the 8,000-square foot location, spilling into adjacent spaces and even needing common areas for some of the museum’s larger events.
So when the folks who book space for Cedar Creek Mall suggested the space, which is double the original space at 16,000 square feet, Bovet says it was a no-brainer.
In fact, it’s grown in the new space. Bovet says memberships have increased substantially, and it turned out a number of people who regularly came to the museum live on the south side of the metro area, so it made it much easier to attend. “We did look around at some places but with this being a central location and with larger spaces being hard to come by, this location made sense,” Bovet told City Pages. Many parents appreciated the new southern location. “They’re happy that we’re here.”
Bovet had the idea for the museum when her son was born in 2013, and began the museum in 2015 as a museum without walls. Bovet would take the exhibits to a number of Wausau events, including the Balloon Rally and Marketplace Thursdays. “Families loved it, and they started asking for an indoor space,” Bovet says.
Later on the museum opened in a smaller space in the mall on the J.C. Penney wing, then the larger space on the Sears wing until COVID shut down the mall in 2020.
The larger space has allowed for some expansion already, Bovet explains. The museum added larger active play areas, a doctor space and a veterinarian space. They also have an expanded gift shop area.
The most popular item at the museum depends on what age range you ask about. The basketball area is a bit hit with the older children (as well as accompanying dads, husband Phil Bovet adds). The grocery/diner area is popular among younger children, she says.
The museum gets plenty of traffic. Bovet says on a weekend day they’ll have more than 200 come through the doors, and a weekday event can see 75 to 100 come through in a couple of hours.
“It’s surreal,” Bovet says of seeing the museum grow from a small traveling exhibits to a 16,000-square foot museum. “It’s wonderful to be able to provide a really nice space for families to come together.”
And that’s only the start. The Bovets say they have a master plan for the space, which will really transform it in the years to come.
Yes, there are two children’s museums
Since people always get confused, there are two museums, one of which is currently in the works. The Children’s Imaginarium will be built out in part of the HOM Furniture building as part of the mall redevelopment plan. It is separate from the Greater Wausau Children’s Museum.