The Lucy Desi Museum Shop offers original I Love Lucy and Desilu Productions merchandise for nostalgic fans who make the trek to Lucille Ball’s hometown.

Dec. 13, 2023

The first episode of “I Love Lucy” premiered Oct. 15, 1951, starring Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, and it quickly became a beloved television sitcom. In 1996, shortly before the show’s 50th anniversary, the Lucy Desi Museum Shop opened in Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, New York, to honor the lives, careers and legacies of Ball and Arnaz. The museum showcases recreated sets from the sitcom as well as props, costumes and filming equipment used on the show.

The museum features two main galleries for visitors to browse. The one gallery showcases just about everything from “I Love Lucy” — recreated sets from the sitcom as well as props, costumes and filming equipment used on the show. A second gallery is dedicated to anything related to Desilu Productions, which was founded and co-owned by Ball and Arnaz and is known for producing shows such as “I Love Lucy,” “Star Trek,” “Mission: Impossible” and “The Untouchables.” That gallery also showcases Ball and Arnaz’s body of works and legacies outside the “I Love Lucy” series, including Ball’s subsequent TV series “The Lucy Show” and “Here’s Lucy.”

Although Jamestown is a modest-sized town in western New York, the Lucy Desi Museum as well as the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival — typically hosted each August in Jamestown around the same time as Ball’s birthday — draw thousands of “I Love Lucy” and comedy fans to the museum from across the country.

To match its two galleries, the Lucy Desi Museum offers guests two stores, with one dedicated to “I Love Lucy” and the other dedicated to anything from Desilu Productions. Knowing that most of the museum’s visitors may only come once in a lifetime, Kate Rinko, retail supervisor of the Lucy Desi Museum Shop, says she strives to make memorable connections with everyone who walks in either of the museum’s stores.

“The museum is special to the people who come here,” she says. “If we can provide merchandise that is special and unique to them, I think that is always the goal: to provide the best memories.”

One-of-a-kind finds

With two museum shops, there’s no shortage of souvenirs for Lucy Desi Museum visitors. For the shop focused specifically on “I Love Lucy” merchandise, Rinko notes that the museum developed a relationship with Paramount Consumer Products to ensure it can stock licensed “I Love Lucy” products, including all seasons of “I Love Lucy,” books, T-shirts and more.

The National Comedy Center shop salutes comedians like Johnny Carson and Carl Reiner.

When customers walk into the I Love Lucy- themed museum store, they get flashbacks to favorite episodes of the sitcom. Rinko breaks sections of the shop down into some popular episodes: the Chocolate Factory episode area, a Vitameatavegamin episode area, a Going to California episode area and an area dedicated to Lucy and her friends.

Rinko says having the store organized by popular “I Love Lucy” episodes serves as a great conversation starter with customers.

“We’re all fans of the show,” she says of the store’s six employees. “We’re fans of the people who created it.”

Meanwhile, the museum’s shop dedicated to Desilu Productions offers a variety of products related to that studio. It carries a mix of licensed and wholesale merchandise. Rinko says she makes sure that shop stocks merchandise and seasons of popular shows produced by or filmed by Desilu Productions, such as “Star Trek.” She says that store also carries all the museum-specific merchandise.

“Anything that has the Lucy Desi Museum logo sells,” she says, adding that any product with the museum logo, be it a T-shirt or a hat, often sells out.

Unique to the Lucy Desi Museum, Rinko and her team have also developed exclusive collections of “I Love Lucy” products, all of which were designed by the museum and approved by Paramount and the Lucy Desi estate. Rinko says the museum has developed at least five exclusive collections of merchandise for its customers.

Souvenirs are grouped by some of the most legendary “I Love Lucy” episodes.

“We do everything in house,” Rinko says of developing exclusive “I Love Lucy” merchandise collections. “Myself and a graphic designer work on creating a product design. We start with the logo for the collection … and product mockups. From there we create a proposal that explains what the collection is about and why we feel it is important to carry. We send that to [Paramount Consumer Products] and the Lucy Desi estate for official approval. Once it’s approved, we send it off to our vendors we work with.”

Rinko says the museum’s Polka Dot Gift Collection offers some original souvenirs decked out in Lucy Ricardo’s distinctive polka dot style, such as the Polka Dot Collection Polka Dot Coasters, Polka Dot Collection Compact Mirror or Polka Dot Mint Tins. The museum store has also developed a Vitameatavegamin Word Art Collection to celebrate one of the most memorable episodes of the show, “Lucy Does a TV Commercial.” Shop customers can buy Vitameatavegamin Word Art 16-ounce Tumblers, Vitameatavegamin T-shirts or Vitameatavegamin Bumper Stickers.

“We’re always expanding these products as well, which is another fun feature of being able to create your own products,” says Rinko, adding that the museum store is in the process of developing a, “Lucy, I’m Home!” collection next.

She adds that store customers love that these products are one-of-a-kind finds — new merchandise they can’t find on Amazon or in other retail shops.

“You aren’t going to find [these products] on any other “I Love Lucy” product site,” says Rinko. “I think that’s very important to our stores. It helps us to stand out. To be able to create new merchandise for [customers] that they’re loving is a really fun thing to do.”

Drawing a crowd

Early August is busy season for the Lucy Desi Museum Shop. Thousands of visitors come to Jamestown each August for the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival.

Souvenirs are grouped by some of the most legendary “I Love Lucy” episodes.

“The festival is bigger than just Lucy fans,” says Gary Hahn, vice president of marketing and communications for the Lucy Desi Museum and National Comedy Center, noting that people come to celebrate all aspects of comedy.

In 2023, people flocked to Jamestown to see festival headliners Gabriel Iglesias and Taylor Tomlinson as well as many other stand-up comedians and comedy-related events.

To accommodate the big crowds, Rinko says she makes sure her shops are well-stocked for festival time. The museum shop also helps to create and sell a Lucille Ball Comedy Festival T-shirt specific to that event each year.

“It’s one of our best weeks for retail,” she says.

“I Love Lucy” Day, which is Oct. 15, is another important date for the destination retailer. The day recognizes the anniversary of the show’s debut on CBS. Hahn notes that the museum is ramping up for the show’s 75th anniversary, which will be in 2026.

Next April, Jamestown will be in the path of totality for a solar eclipse. Hahn says the museum store plans to offer some themed glasses for the occasion.

And throughout the year, Rinko says she likes to refocus the I Love Lucy store displays around anniversaries for different episodes of the show. She says, “Any type of episode holiday or anniversary, we rotate product around to focus on that.”

Executing Lucy’s vision

Lucille Ball certainly made sure to pay homage to her hometown of Jamestown in many episodes of “I Love Lucy.” While she appreciated that town leaders had approached her about hosting a Lucille Ball Comedy Festival and building a museum in her honor just prior to her death in 1989, Hahn notes that Ball wanted the town to honor all of comedy through the festival and a comprehensive museum devoted to the comedy art form.

Souvenirs are grouped by some of the most legendary “I Love Lucy” episodes.

To expand on Ball’s vision of making Jamestown the nation’s main comedy hub, the National Comedy Center opened in 2018 to present the story of comedy and preserve its heritage. The new museum offers history, to be sure, but it’s definitely not a quiet museum.

“It’s one of the most interactive museums in the world,” says Hahn. “It offers a personalized experience. You create a sense of humor profile as you come in, which goes on a laugh band on your wrist with an RFID chip. We customize content delivered to you based on your sense of humor profile.”

National Comedy Center exhibits focus on just about any type of comedy out there — stand-up, movies, sketch and improv. Some exhibits are dedicated to the comedy greats, like Johnny Carson or Carl Reiner. One room in the museum invites guests to do stand-up karaoke, where they can recite comedy routines from famous stand-up artists in front of family and friends.

And, of course, the museum features a shop that Hahn describes as the “brick-and-mortar hub for all-things funny.” The National Comedy Center shop stocks a variety of products, some of which are licensed merchandise for TV shows or movies as well as some generally funny products like rubber chickens and oven mitts or coasters with funny sayings.

Since customers might have a wide variety of tastes in comedy and what’s funny, Rinko says there are endless merchandising possibilities. But, she adds, she tries to tie merchandising decisions closely to exhibits in the museum.

“What works best is having our merchandise match what we have on display in the museum,” says Rinko. “If Jack Black’s costume from “School of Rock” is on display, we’ll carry “School of Rock” merchandise. Anytime you tie back to what you see in the museum helps so when you get to the shop, you’re reminded of the fun times you had in the museum.”

She says customer recommendations also help her with that particular shop.

Hahn and Rinko say customers at both Lucy Desi Museum shops and the National Comedy Center shop are always impressed by how fun their selections are. Hahn says the shops are “filled with pure joy,” offering merchandise that comedy fans are passionate about.

“When they get here, they are overwhelmed with the fun we have inside,” says Rinko. “That helps our stores stand out from general gift stores you find down the street.”