'Commercialized grief'? Public reacts to September 11 Museum's gift shop

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which opened with a ceremony on May 15, has drawn controversy — for having a gift shop. 

The shop sells items like sweatshirts, mugs, umbrellas, tote bags, phone cases, silk scarves with images of the Twin Towers, ornaments of the two buildings and even plush dog toys and designer jewelry. 

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But some are saying the shop is commercializing a tragedy.

"I honestly don’t think it’s appropriate — selling scarves to commercialize the deaths of 3,000 people,” Brooklyn state Sen. Martin Golden told The New York Post, which kicked off the conversation Sunday. “I don’t think it's right.”

The museum, which officially opens to the public on Wednesday, relies on the proceeds from the sales to help support its operation. It also charges a $24 admission fee to the museum. 

"The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is a nonprofit that does not yet receive any federal, state or city funding for its operations,'' 9/11 Memorial spokesperson Michael Frazier said in a statement to TODAY.com. "To care for the Memorial and Museum, our organization relies on private fundraising, gracious donations and revenue from ticketing and carefully selected keepsake items for retail. The museum store is open during this free dedication period when guests include 9/11 family members, rescuers, recovery workers, survivors and the residents of the local community. In fact, many of our guests from the 9/11 community have visited the shop and purchased a keepsake from their historic experience." 

"Some of these things are in poor taste, I'll grant you that, but they have done such an incredible job with that memorial,'' Willie Geist said on TODAY Monday. "It's such a beautiful, heartbreaking place. I hope people don't judge it based on what's in the gift shop." 

"I could see selling books that are educational,'' Savannah Guthrie said. "I think people have a problem with ornaments or key chains or that kind of thing." 

President Barack Obama speaks during the opening ceremony for the National September 11 Memorial Museum at ground zero on Friday. Pool via Getty Images / Today

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is drafting a proposal to have the memorial classified as a national park so that it would be run by the National Park Service and receive federal funding to reduce the financial burden. 

"To the point, if they can make it a national monument and take that burden of needing the funds off, that would be a nice compromise,'' Tamron Hall said. 

In a Facebook survey, a majority of TODAY viewers said they would buy something from the gift shop at the 9/11 museum. 

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum tell the stories of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, as well as of survivors and first responders.

"I have been to the memorial and the gift shop,'' viewer Rachel Woodall commented on Facebook. "I bought a shirt. I feel when I wear it, it helps to remind people of that day and the selfless acts Americans did to help each other. United We Stand." 

"The Oklahoma City memorial museum has a gift shop, and it is really nice,'' Ellen Harwell wrote. "We don't consider it insensitive. It even carries books on discussing difficult topics with children. People have emotional reactions going to places like this. They want to purchase mementos and know it is going to help support the memorial." 

Others disagreed with selling 9/11-related paraphernalia. 

"Considering that this museum exists because so many people were murdered by terrorists on that horrid day, to me, it would be like going to a cemetery and buying a souvenir on the way out,'' viewer Andrea Gentry wrote. "It just seems disrespectful, even though that is not the intent."

"I don't think grief should be commercialized,'' Melody Parkhurst commented.