Discover Portsmouth Welcomes New Museum Shop Manager

2016 Museum Shop at Discover Portsmouth
Nov. 2016, Portsmouth NH: Cynthia Novotny uses the word “love” a lot. She loves her new job at Discover Portsmouth where she runs the Museum Shop. She loves Portsmouth and its history.

“Don’t you love this?” Cynthia says, picking up a new mug with images from the Port City. She has spent months stocking the nonprofit gift shop for the holiday season. Everything is hand picked.

“We have items on consignment from 41 creative local people,” she says with pride. She points to a growing collection of books focused on the Portsmouth region and written by Seacoast authors. For example, children’s author/illustrators Matt Taveras (December 3) and Katy Bratun (December 10) will make appearances reading their latest books as part of the upcoming 26th Annual Gingerbread House Contest at Discover Portsmouth.

“I especially love our motto–We tell Portsmouth stories. That’s how I see this store. I can tell stories through my shop.” Cynthia steps to a table full of items related to John Paul Jones and the city’s rich maritime heritage. Her latest children’s t-shirt depicts the outline of a tall ship that glows in the dark.

Cynthia Novotny was born into a retail family. She’s comfortable in the world of marketing, inventory, and accounting. She holds a degree in Fashion Merchandising from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

“My grandmother was in the fashion business in the Berkshires. I was cleaning out stock rooms at age 16,” she says.

Cynthia hails from New York, via South Carolina, and, most recently from Newburyport, Portsmouth’s sister harbor. It was there, living in a 1785 home, that Cynthia caught the history bug. She began visiting historic houses and absorbing history books. She has successfully managed nonprofit museum shops in Newburyport, Wenham, and Marblehead. Cynthia and her husband, now retired, live in York, Maine.

The challenge at Discover Portsmouth–and the joy, she says–is appealing to the diverse group of people who flow into the building seven days a week. Some are coming to see the latest art exhibit in the Academy Gallery. The brick building to one side was built as a school in 1810. It also served as the city library for 100 years. Seacoast residents also stream past the visitor desk and gift shop en route to meetings and lectures upstairs. Some just hang out.

Discover Portsmouth Museum Store
“It’s like an old-fashioned general store,” Cynthia says. “People pop by to see what’s going on in town or chat about the news.”

Others are wholly new to the city, drawn from Japan, England, Germany, and everywhere, lured by the city’s widening reputation as a heritage and cultural destination. They cluster at the information desk seeking tips, tours, and directions. They watch a Portsmouth orientation film in a tiny theater, unaware that it once led to the office of city historian Dorothy Vaughan, who worked here for 53 years.

That atmosphere is like nowhere else, Cynthia adds. Tourists and locals mingle at Discover Portsmouth. They interact. The outsiders get the inside scoop.

“The people in Portsmouth are so friendly, and the volunteers are so dedicated and well-informed. This is the most amazing place I have ever walked into,” says the new shop manager. “I love coming to work. My hope when I come into a new endeavor, has always been that I leave it a little better than when I started.”

For more information about the Discover Portsmouth Museum Shop, art gallery exhibits, the 26th Annual Gingerbread House Exhibition, space rentals, and membership in the Portsmouth Historical Society, call 603-436-8433. Discover Portsmouth, located at 10 Middle Street, is open 9:30am – 5pm; in December, it will remain open until 8pm on Fridays and Saturday nights through December 23, 2016.

Find great holiday gifts in the Museum Shop!