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ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- When the expanded Strong - National Museum of Play reopened here last month, one of its new features was an updated permanent exhibition created in collaboration with hometown grocer Wegmans Food Markets.
Additions to the Wegmans "Super Kids Market" exhibit include a new farm-themed mural by Becky McDonald, the sign artist at the retailer's Perinton, N.Y. store, and upgraded cash registers, scanning equipment, and belts to move groceries from the cart toward the cashier. The checkout equipment is linked electronically to Wegmans' actual computing system, so that "[w]hen a youngster scans a box of cereal or a carton of milk, the price that rings up at the register is the price actually charged in the stores," noted Wegmans community relations manager Linda Lovejoy in a statement.
"Kids love being in control," continued Lovejoy. "They like picking out what to put in the basket, they love scanning up items just like real cashiers, and they love pretending to have the jobs they see people doing at grocery stores -- the meat manager, the produce manager, or the stock clerk."
The exhibit looks just like a real store, except that shelves and displays are sized especially for children. "The same cabinet makers who build displays for our stores made these displays for the museum," said Lovejoy.
Each department in the store has aprons with the job title for someone in that department, allowing kids to take on the duties of a butcher or store manager. There are signs near the aprons that tell children what someone in that job might say, such as "Cleanup on aisle 3!" for a store manager
Realistic-looking items such as bananas, apples, oranges, fish, steaks, chicken, or breads are actually made from a durable synthetic. "We wanted something that looked real, but would stand up to being handled by hundreds or thousands of kids a day," observed Lovejoy. Meanwhile groceries like milk, cereal, crackers, or ice cream come in familiar-looking cartons and packaging, but without any food inside. "That means no spoilage, and a box that is lightweight enough for small children to handle," she added.
Additionally, teachers can use the museum store for lessons in nutrition and math. In "The Hungry Butterfly" learning game, children embark on a treasure hunt to find as many foods as they can with colors that butterflies like, while in "Math Party," kids choose one of five menus and receive play money they can use to purchase the groceries. The latter exercise teaches children to comparison-shop for price and to see how all the items add up to a figure below the budget.
Resource areas of the exhibit include reading materials and computers with links to food-related Web sites. Children can also produce their own commercials and cooking shows in the WKID-TV station.
After children have completed their shopping (there's a limit of five items), they take their carts to one of six working checkout counters, scan and ring up their own orders, and print out receipts as a souvenir of the experience, while the food is returned to the shelves.
Parents also get take-home mementos, in the form of complimentary copies of the latest issue of "Wegmans Menu Magazine." In addition, a new pamphlet offering healthy snack ideas for kids will be available at the museum this fall.
Family-owned Wegmans operates 71 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland.