Corrections or additions?
It’s a Wonder Museum andProfit Center
This article by Caroline Calogero was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
November 25, 1998. All rights reserved.
What to do with the kids is a question that causes
many normally brave adults to quake with fear. Should it be a plunge
into the frenetic atmosphere of Chuckie Cheese or an enlightening
stroll through the august halls of the Franklin Institute? Instead,
try a visit to one of those new-fangled creations, half-man,
— a children’s museum and party place that is run, not by a
organization, but by business partners who aim to profit from their
enterprise. The Wonder Museum, located at 385 Route 130 North in East
Windsor, which just opened this month, is one of those curious
Located just past the busy intersection of Routes 130 and 571, at
385 Route 130, across from a bedraggled shopping center missing both
its anchor stores, a glimpse of the Wonder Museum leads one to wonder.
What is a self-proclaimed interactive children’s museum doing amid
the diners and car dealers? Is it just another indoor amusement park
or is it really a museum?
It was hard to know what to make of it until seeing the meteorite.
It was sitting naked, unencumbered by Plexiglas, bolted to a metal
stand. A magnet dangled from a chain next to it and a picture of the
crater in the southwest where the fist sized chunk was found was
above. I couldn’t resist the urge to touch it and didn’t have to.
The meteorite was mute testimony to both the capitalist ambition that
built the Wonder Museum and the educational mission behind it.
"We went out of our way to find a real meteorite. You might go
to another museum and see it in a case. Here we went through the
of finding something kids could actually touch and feel," says
Tim Luing, one of the facility’s five principals. Despite its unusual
packaging as a for-profit enterprise, maybe The Wonder Museum was
For its current incarnation, the Wonder Museum building (formerly
a women’s clothing store and later, a catalog outlet) has had its
interior gutted and painted sky blue. The high arched ceilings with
exposed trusses give the place the feeling of an airplane hangar.
Just beyond the front desk are most of its sure-to-wow exhibits. A
retired 1965 pumper fire truck from Englishtown sits off to the right.
Behind it is an ambulance, open for climbing, which did duty in
Borough. A castle fortress sits against the exterior wall. Next to
the castle, is a 1948 Gunther Biplane ready for take off. On the left
side, is a 1926 black Ford Model T roadster. It is parked just in
front of a log cabin complete with pot belly stove and front porch.
A half size model of Columbus’ ship, the Pinta, occupies center stage.
Behind that is a teepee whose poles just skim the 22 foot ceiling.
In back, are a music room, dance studio complete with ballet barre,
and a television station, among other offerings. In the music room
is an upright piano with the back panel removed and replaced with
Lucite to permit view of the action behind the key board. The walls
are adorned with posters reproducing the work of Renoir and Roy
There is a bank of five computers, just equal to the number of party
rooms, running software related to the exhibits.
The Wonder Museum’s concept is not unique. Places such as Discovery
House in East Brunswick offer a similar menu of educational exhibits
mixed with a generous dollop of froth. But at 16,000 square feet,
The Wonder Museum is bigger, certainly newer, and maybe, on the edge
of a trend.
Dan Seymour, public relations and marketing coordinator
at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, believes the number of
children’s museums is on the rise throughout the country:
museums are really becoming an intricate part of children’s education.
Really good children’s museums are ones that teachers can use as part
of their curriculum." The museum in Philadelphia was established
in 1976 to enrich the lives of children ages one to seven, and, like
most museums, it is a non-profit institution.
Luing admits that he and his partners are going against this
"But I really feel we run it better than a nonprofit does. We
run it as a business. Since we’re closely or family owned, we can
make decisions and move on a dime. There’s not a lot of red tape to
Luing’s family has had experience with combining education with bottom
line results beginning when his dad bought into Berkeley College 32
years ago. Luing and his three brothers, Brian, Kevin and Randy, who
are also principals in the Wonder Museum, are all connected with
College, an accredited institution of higher learning run for profit.
Berkeley has five campuses, three in New Jersey and two in New York,
and 4,000 students.
Berkeley’s status as a college operated for profit is an unusual
"There’s not a whole lot of them," says Luing. The college’s
emphasis is business careers. It grants an associate’s in New Jersey
and both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in New York.
The four Luing siblings each hold positions at Berkeley College. Tim,
who earned an MBA from Tulane University in 1995 and a bachelor’s
degree in economics from Gettysburg College in 1990, is the vice
of development. He is married with an infant daughter. His oldest
brother, Kevin, is president of the New Jersey campuses. Randy, the
second oldest, is senior vice president of all five campuses. Brian,
the youngest of the four, is an assistant dean on New Jersey campuses.
The brothers will handle most of their marketing and planning
from their Berkeley College offices.
Janet DeLorenzo, a friend of the Luing family for 20 years, is the
fifth principal of The Wonder Museum. She has responsibility for day
to day operations and has done much of the ground work preceding its
opening, including procuring such exhibits as a fire truck and an
ambulance, and dealing with the artisans who built the customized
DeLorenzo has a degree in business administration from Lynchburg
College in Virginia. She declines to give the year of her graduation.
She is unmarried and admits the project has consumed her life.
been in this building every day since February 13 except for the
of July and the day before," she says. With experience managing
a deli and an ice cream shop and in real estate sales, DeLorenzo
a retail perspective to the project.
The idea for the Wonder Museum resonated for Luing because of his
own experiences as a child. "Back when I was a kid we used to
go out to Minnesota to see relatives. There was a firehouse right
across the street from my grandmother’s house. When the fire bell
rang we all ran out to see and watch the firemen," he says, "I
can remember the day that they actually took us inside the fire house.
We sat in fire trucks and tried on the big boots that went up to my
waist. It really left an impression."
The Luings and DeLorenzo had been looking for a new business venture
for a few years. "I knew I wanted to start something. We all five
got together and brainstormed. We looked into probably two or three
dozen ideas," says Luing. Something to do with education was a
natural choice. "There’s not a lot to do for kids as far as
and playing . . . What can we then do for kids?" says Luing,
the process that led to the Wonder Museum.
The group spent about two years researching children’s museums and
culling articles and data from the internet. They kept track of which
exhibits were common to most museums and which were most popular among
reviewers. They used the information to choose 35 exhibits for the
Wonder Museum. "We tried to take the most popular ones and the
most educational," says Luing. He admits the educational value
of some displays like the grocery store might be questioned. But Luing
stresses that good parent child interaction can transform even
plastic fruit into a learning experience when explanations about the
value of money are offered as part of the experience.
The Wonder Museum displays few of the fusty characteristics that have
dogged some nonprofit enterprises. Marketing efforts have been
if not downright slick. The Luings have carefully utilized their
academic resources. Print advertisements and a coloring book have
been done by graphic artists on staff at Berkeley College. The smiling
green dinosaur logo was chosen after Susan Baechtel, vice president
for marketing at Berkeley College, questioned 687 kids about half
a dozen potential mascots. The character’s smile was made toothless
to make it more friendly and its color was changed from brown to green
as a result of this child-centered market research. "The most
successful new ventures are those where the child directs the
development," says Baechtel.
Set up costs, which included building an addition to
house the five party rooms and the snack bar, approximated $1 million
dollars. "We wanted to make sure to do things right," says
Luing. The venture was completely privately financed. The Wonder
is organized as a limited liability company. Luing expects revenues
to exceed $800,000 for the first year. Currently there are 10
with plans to add an additional five.
The Wonder Museum, though up and running, remains a work in progress.
Minor jobs — like installing the hydrant DeLorenzo tracked down
to sit next to the fire truck — still need to be done. Major
exist too like the need for a permanent solution to the problem which
delayed the opening for five days — a reliable water supply for
the sprinkler system.
"We left open space for future exhibits," says DeLorenzo.
During the first six months, she plans to observe usage patterns and
make adjustments. "We also have to get a feel for the layout and
how hard people are on certain things and make changes
Yet DeLorenzo already sees some evidence of The Wonder Museum’s
"None of the kids want to leave. I like that. I like seeing the
kids get upset when they have to leave."
Take birthday party kids to a skating rink or a bowling
alley, says Rich Ganeles, and instead of doing the sport, they will
cluster ’round the video games. Ganeles knows the party scene. At
55 he left his job as vice president of a major company in the garment
industry to wholesale arcade games. Then he and his daughter Randi
targeted an unusual niche: a party spot with unlimited games that
"Parents don’t like mixing their party with someone else’s
he says. At the Fun House, located at Forsgate Corporate Center, no
strange big kid could mow down your little kid. Everyone there would
be your guest. "We are the only place we know of who does
private parties," he says. "Kids can get to the games they
want to play. Mothers love it. They say, `I know exactly where my
For a couple of years the concept worked. Though advertising was
it had good word-of-mouth. But just as the Wonder Museum is opening,
the Fun House is closing. It lost its lease and will reopen in 1999.
Keep the Fun House in mind for next year, not only for children’s
parties but for adult and corporate gatherings. Ganeles and his
Randi own more than 60 games, ranging from the laser video games to
the old fashioned pinball machine to Pitch ‘Em. For a fixed price,
everybody plays as much as they want. No tokens. For kids’ parties
he provides everything but the cake for about $15 per child. For
it is $259 for two hours for 20 adults, extra for each additional
Meanwhile, look in the attic for your old Pac Man. It’s one of his
most popular, says Ganeles. Pac Man catches the eye not only of adults
but also of young children. "They get a tremendous kick out of
Suite 9, Jamesburg 08831. Rich Ganeles, owner. 888-266-4386; fax,
609-443-5855. Home page: www.thefunhouse.net.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.