More shame in Atlanta: Symphony Store is replaced by Delta Sky Lounge

More shame in Atlanta: Symphony Store is replaced by Delta Sky Lounge


norman lebrecht

June 04, 2015

First Atlanta eliminates music from elementary schools. Now the faltering Woodruff Arts Centre is in the process of shutting down its useful and profitable symphony store and opening an airline bar in its place. This report from our correspondent Allen Brown:

woodruff arts center

Atlanta (Slipped Disc) – In its ongoing desperation for funds, the Woodruff Arts Center has decided to close its profitable Symphony Store and replace it with a Delta Sky Lounge.

The Symphony Store is a profitable gift and souvenir shop with a terrific variety of music-themed and arts-themed items, including T-shirts, home accessories, jewelry, neckties, aprons, greeting cards, books, umbrellas and scarves. The store also sells the entire catalog of ASO recordings, including those from the era of Robert Shaw. The store is part of the concert-goer’s experience, and helps promote the ASO brand with mementos that patrons purchase for themselves or to give as gifts. The merchandise is currently being liquidated. This weekend is the last concert of the season.

Though it’s a bit smaller, the store is far superior in displays and merchandise to the gift shops at the Kennedy Center, Dallas Symphony, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Many ASO patrons (and orchestra members) are outraged by the decision to end this ASO tradition and replace it with a Delta Sky Lounge.

The decision seems ill-advised for several reasons, not the least of which are the ample food and beverage options in the Robert Shaw Room for donor-subscribers, the 6-8 snack and beverage stations in the Symphony Hall galleria during concerts, as well as the adjacent restaurant, Table 1280, located in the piazza.

It would seem that alcohol sales is the new solution to fundraising. And it would also seem that replacing ASO branding with Delta branding is the way to woo patrons. Don’t we all want to be reminded during our Symphony excursions what a joy it is to be in airports and on airplanes?

WAC and ASO leaders, Virginia Hepner and Terry Neal, are grasping at straws.



NY-LON-Lounge-Bar- delta

UPDATE: In an unrelated development announced today, Delta are planning to open a similar Sky Lounge in London. This may be part of some ghastly global strategy.



  • Henry Aaron says:

    It’s one thing to say the Symphony Store is profitable (which is usually the case because it would be staffed by volunteers) – but how much does it bring in?

    If they’re looking to increase revenues (and who isn’t?), and it’s pretty desperate (it is), is it not reasonable to explore all possible options? Could they make more money using that space in another way? I would assume they’d only do this if they’re making more money from Delta than from a handful of people buying piano-keyboard-scarves and cat-playing-piano greeting cards.

  • Olassus says:

    Excuse my ignorance, but what is a Delta Sky Lounge? A restaurant? I think of a room at an airport … .

  • Joel stein says:

    The Verizon center ( Philadelphia Orchestra) also replaced the area that held its store with more seating to eat and drink.

  • Leoz says:

    This may be a shame but not shameful. I hope this is merely the better use of revenue-generating space in support of the overall mission of the Woodruff Arts Centre (sic). We all know that corporate charity plays a significant role in arts funding in the United States; this is the positive exploitation of synergy with a corporate sponsor. Patrons aren’t clamoring for McDonalds or the John Deere Tractor Store at the Symphony hall – but they do enjoy a drink with friends before the concert. Delta, headquartered in Atlanta, has its own branded bar/lounge. There is a perfect fit here.

  • V.Lind says:

    I suspect those souvenir stores are money-losers in a lot of places. They may be manned by volunteers, but the corporate entity that runs the building will assess rent, running costs, etc. A bar will make more money. Kitsch can be purchased online.

    • Kathy says:

      Actually, this is not a souvenir store, it’s an upscale music gift store which includes some ASO branded items and their recorded discography. It also is profitable and manned by paid staff. There are multiple locations to purchase alcohol and snacks before concerts and during intermission. The proposal now is to move it to another location and limit the items sold to mainly ASO branded merchandise. Interim CEO, Terry Neal, said in a statement that this was driven by patron feedback, but no one has been surveyed or contacted regarding adding a Delta Lounge that we have spoken with. Perhaps he meant Delta feedback? Revenue generating might be a good thing, but when Virginia Hepner repeatedly states that we need to make the arts accessible to every one but then Doug Hertz approves the creation of a bar (will he be supplying the liquor?) then they immediately exclude families with children. Perhaps the Delta Lounge could be located elsewhere? Why fix something that’s not broken?

  • SWK says:

    The WAC is a veritable boneyard with tons of unused space … There are plenty of places to put several bars without uprooting what is a very popular gift shop. Yes the shop has ‘Diva’ aprons and other stuff, including all ASO CDs. … And proceeds benefit the orchestra. But no, there is no online presence. And no, it’s not the same … Go to a concert over the holidays and stock up on Christmas symphony stuff, knowing that your purchase directly benefits the orchestra? Go buy a drink and the money goes to WAC? No thanks …

  • John Cooledge says:

    An email this afternoon from Terry Neal, ASO Acting CEO, states: “As part of this plan, we are working on an evolution of the Symphony Store. We will be moving the store to a new location within the Memorial Arts Building and complement that with a new online store. As part of this process, we are also reviewing the product mix. We will continue to offer our strongest selling items with a focus on Atlanta Symphony Orchestra branded or related merchandise.”

    • Olassus says:

      This man Neal is clearly all about business.

      His words are business clichés, and he shows he doesn’t understand that the Mission is to edify and enrich people.

      Mr. Neal, get your corporation to donate properly, ensure that the ASO is prudent with its revenues and costs, and then stay out of the way!

  • Kathy A says:

    Very convenient for the Chairman of the WAC Board, Doug Hertz, who just happens to own an alcoholic beverage distributorship.

  • Brianne says:

    Some people may actually want to buy gifts and ASO music in person, though. The Symphony Store manager stocks the place very thoughtfully, and somehow he figures out what his customers didn’t know they needed. I’m a music teacher, and I can always find great books and resources there, and it’s a perfect place to buy unique, elegant gifts. I rarely leave the place empty handed.

    I’d rather support our symphony than buy even more stuff online. There are plenty of other areas in the WAC to get a drink with friends.

  • MJ Frost says:

    They, (WAC, ASO) have never understood the concept of a Gift Shop associated with the Memorial Arts Building. The decision as to the need for a retail space has always been driven by the amount of profit. As anyone with retail experience knows, in small, specialized environments, big profits are not attainable. This shop was started in 1995. I managed it from its conception until 2001. The shop was full every Symphony and Theater evening with lines out into the hallways. Every ASO recording was available and so much more. It could stand tall with wonderful merchandising and displays. We kept daytime and performance hours and staffed with paid and volunteers. Sorry that this shop can not be maintained for all of the visitors and patrons of the Arts. The experience when you are there should be about more than food and liquor.

  • Steve says:

    This seems to me to be yet another example of taking money away from the ASO and giving it to WAC. And then later WAC complains that the ASO isn’t bringing in enough lucre. And starts trying, yet again, to break the musician’s union and massively cut their pay.

  • James Basso says:

    I haven’t read all the comments so I’m not sure if this has been mentioned…. THE STORE WILL BE RELOCATED. I’ve talked to a few people that have confirmed this. The store generates revenue and everyone knows it. And people need to realize that Delta is paying a good chunk of change to have their own lounge by the Hall. So while it is a true headline, there are some holes in this story.

  • SWK says:

    Yes, the store will be relocated to a lesser spot, or a kiosk, somewhere else in the bowels of the WAC building, rather than immediately adjacent to Symphony Hall lobby… and Delta will have appropriated the store’s location to compensate for its years of sponsorship. But why can’t Delta spring for a really nice interactive historical exhibit on the ground floor of the WAC that the public can enjoy, which would add much to what is now just a large, uninteresting space? Delta can put its drinking hole on the second floor where the Robert Shaw room and other VIP rooms are and people will find it … And leave the Symphony Store alone.

  • Linda Bricker says:

    The ASO gift shop is (was) a treasure. Well stocked, displayed, clever and beautiful items not to be found elsewhere. The jewelry was handmade and one of a kind. I, for one, shall NEVER visit a honky tonk establishment at the symphony of all places. What’s next? A brothel?

  • Jones says:

    There’s actually this good news regarding the ASO:

    Not that Slipped Disc or any other part of ArtsJournal is likely to cover good arts news from Atlanta……………..

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Mr Jones, If you search the site you will find evidence of recent ASO success. Curb your prejudice. NL

  • Mike says:

    I’m happy to say that the Symphony Store is alive and well, just across the hall from its original location. The Delta lounge is a nice space and is the only Delta (and probably any other airline) lounge located in a major Arts Center. The powers that be listened to the musicians’ suggestions about having both enterprises in the same approximate location within the Center, and is very good use of the space, better than the infrequently used event room formerly used. The coffee kiosk that was occasionally set up has also been replaced with a full-service high-end coffee shoppe on the opposite end of the building. This is all good news for both patrons and employees of the WAC.