The beloved New York Transit Museum will reopen on Aug. 14, welcoming back in-person visitors for the first time at its decommissioned Downtown Brooklyn subway station since the pandemic began, amNewYork Metro can exclusively reveal.
The popular underground museum known for its collection of vintage train cars will start with a pared-back schedule opening on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, according to its director.
“We are over-the-moon excited to be back hosting people in our 1936 subway station home,” Concetta Bencivenga told amNewYork Metro. “It will be the Transit Museum that you love and remember.”
Museum members will get early access on Friday, Aug. 13, ahead of launching for the general public the next day, and Bencivenga said they plan to add more days to their schedule as people return.
There are a handful of COVID precautions in place, including mandatory mask-wearing at all times and visitors are not allowed to sit on the buses on display in the subterranean space. Eating is prohibited in the lunchroom and an interactive plunger that let visitors mimic a dynamite sound has been replaced with just a recording.
Train buffs can still wander through the museum’s signature stable of old subway cars, including a painstakingly-restored wooden model dating back to 1904, which MTA more recently rolled out atop a flatbed truck to celebrate transit workers as part of the city’s “Hometown Heroes” ticker-tape parade up the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan on July 7.
The Transit Museum is run as a public-private partnership between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the nonprofit Friends of the New York Transit Museum, and welcomed some 700,000 annual visitors prior to the pandemic in 2019.
Two special exhibits that launched prior to the pandemic are back on view, including “Reign of the Redbirds,” dedicated to the crimson trains from the 1960s, and “Streetscapes and Subways,” a treasure trove of photographs documenting the construction of the city’s underground train network more than 100 years ago.
The museum closed in March 2020 during the coronavirus outbreak, pivoting entirely to online programming, and teased a summer reopening last month. The virtual events will continue even after reopening of the physical space, Bencivenga said.
Unlike other institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Modern Art, which opened last year, the Transit Museum stayed closed for the entire pandemic, until opening its smaller gallery and gift shop in Grand Central Terminal in June.
Bencivenga and her colleagues were more cautious to reopen their signature space in Brooklyn, because the museum is very popular with children who are too young to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines, and due to the many interactive elements that encourage touching and feeling.
“We wanted to make sure we could open and stay open and give as many people ample opportunity to get vaccinated,” she said.
She compared it to the highly-interactive New York Hall of Science in Queens, which also remained closed until earlier this month.
One year into the pandemic in March, the museum laid off a third of its staff, 24 workers, citing COVID-induced hardship. Of the discharges, 19 were jobs that were in-person and part-time workers, according to Bencivenga, and she said she hopes to refill her workforce as patrons come back.
“Our staffing will recover in tandem with how our audience grows,” she said. “I hope one day that we can recover to those [pre-pandemic levels].”
New York Transit Museum, 99 Schermerhorn St., at Boerum Place in Downtown Brooklyn, (718) 694–1600, www.nytransitmuseum.org. $10 ($5 kids and seniors). Reopens Saturday, Aug. 14 at 11 a.m. Special member preview on Aug. 13. Open Fridays–Sundays, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.