Cracking the can to a new future: Spam Museum holds grand opening

Published 1:01 pm Sunday, July 31, 2016

The only thing separating the public and the officially opened Spam Museum was a Spam print ribbon, decorated with a multi-colored, can label bow. But with the slice of an extra-large pair of scissors, the Spam Museum officially welcomed visitors to their newly opened location at 101 Third Ave. NE during the grand opening ceremony Friday morning.

“Today, we make official what is already a main stay [in Austin],” Hormel CEO Jeffrey Ettinger said.

Although the museum opened to the public this past April, the grand opening kicked off Friday’s festivities for Hormel’s 125th anniversary celebration in Austin.

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Hormel has held company-wide celebrations across the country since May 1, but Ettinger believes Austin deserved a bit grander of a party.

“It’s especially important to celebrate here in Austin,” he said.

In its first couple months since the museum’s initial opening, many downtown business have seen an economic boom and drawn nearly 50,000 visitors from 47 states and several countries, according to Ettinger. He believes this is in large part thanks to the new, central location that put the museum right on Main Street.

“A few blocks has made all the difference,” Ettinger said.

Greg Siems, director of Vision 2020, spoke at the ceremony and believes the move has helped the community substantially as well. Instead of just hopping off the interstate, visiting the museum, and leaving immediately, Siems has noticed people tend to spend more time in Austin and shop and eat at local businesses.

“We couldn’t ask for anything better downtown,” Siems said.

For Mayor Tom Steihm, he could’ve never imaged the Spam Museum in the location it’s in now. Just over five years ago, the lot sat vacant after a fire destroyed several downtown buildings.

“We wondered, ‘What are we going to do with this spot?’,” he said.

Now, Steihm couldn’t be happier with the Spam Museum’s location there, and he hopes others are thrilled too.

“We’re unbelievably lucky this is downtown,” he said.

 Old exhibits and new attractions

Many of the old exhibits moved to the Main Street location, but the new space also allowed for new galleries and activities.

Can Central is “the heart of the museum,” Nicole Behne, marketing director for grocery products for Hormel, said at the soft opening of the museum in April.

The circular area immediately just inside the museum features several displays of past Spam-themed items mixed in with touch screens and televisions.

Visitors can also take a trip around the world without leaving downtown Austin. The World Market features advertising, recipes and culture from around the globe to highlight Spam’s reach across 44 countries. The exhibit features a long hallway in the southeast corner of the museum with breakout spots and design with cultural flare from the United Kingdom, China, Japan, Latin America, the Philippines, South Korea and, of course, Hawaii.

One of the favorites from the old museum, the World War II-themed exhibit will be familiar to past visitors, along with some new surprises. The updated gallery includes literature and examples of Hormel’s support for the military from World War II to the present.

“This is a part of our history that we were able to pick up and basically just move into the new space,” Behne said in April.

Visitors can again lift a crate of Spam that would have been shipped during World War II or watch a video of soldier talking about Spam.

Another returning favorite from the old museum allows visitors to assemble their own can of Spam and time themselves to best their friends and family. They fill the can with mock meat, bake it, and put a lid and label on it.

“It’s great because we can have four people competing against each other at the same time,” Behne said. “It’s a really fun, interactive component for kids and adults.”

Among other features of the museum include: an indoor kids park, Hormel Foods and brands exhibit, and the Spam brand pop culture section.