Valley Relics Museum, tucked away in an airplane hangar in Van Nuys, managed to keep its doors open with a little creative thinking, transforming itself into an open-air event space for rentals not long before the pandemic struck. Now that events are slowly being more permitted, bookings have sharply increased.
“We’ve married like 15 people in the two years we’ve been here, but we’ve been shut down for a year,” Tommy Gelinas, owner of Valley Relics, said. “Because of all the venues not opening up right away, we’re booked so far with about six weddings over the next two months.”The profits made from the pre-pandemic bookings helped create a small emergency fund that was eventually depleted during the shutdown while doors were closed. In more recent months, the museum has been intermittently available for private rentals, usually for photo shoots, and relied on membership dues and grant funds to keep functioning. The hangar opens widely on both sides, allowing significant cross breeze; it technically qualifies as an open-air space, which Gelinas said helped him stay in business once the tier system was put in place.
“How we really weathered it is that we were able to become an open-air experience museum because we’re in an airplane hangar. We started promoting on social media advertising our online store with all of our cool retro goodies,” Gelinas said.As soon as the state guidelines shift on June 15, Gelinas said he’s ready to start expanding – both hours and exhibits. Currently, the museum is open two days a week and he plans to increase it to three or four, based on demand. And business closures since the pandemic struck have resulted in additions to the museum’s collections, including the sign for Encino Cleaners, which opened in the 1950s, that Gelinas is in the process of preserving for display.“I just want to make sure it doesn’t leave the San Fernando Valley or the Los Angeles area, making sure it’s safe and preserved because so many things have disappeared over the years,” Gelinas said.
With more than 20 years of preservation experience and a team of technicians to repair neon lights and collectibles, the museum is a collection of Valley business history that Gelinas has groomed over the years. Displays include original signs from The Palomino, memorabilia from “Bad News Bears” (filmed in Mason Park) and a pair of Hugh Hefner’s slippers.For now, guests are required to abide by the typical safety standards while visiting the museum or its gift shop. Social distancing markers dot the floors and there are hand sanitizing stations available near the entrance. The free-to-play pinball machines remain in operation, but the rest of the displays are low-contact and result in minimal risk of spreading illness, especially while the hangar is open.
As the economy opens up, Gelinas plans to bring live entertainment and events to the parking lot outside and, eventually, rent another hangar next door to expand the collection.