AUSTIN (KXAN) — For 15 years, the Museum of the Weird has been tucked away along the 400 block of East Sixth Street, attracting tourists from around the world who’ve arrived in hopes of seeing what exactly “keeps Austin weird” — although owner Steve Busti admits this might not have been the weirdness they expected.
“We try to give them at least our version of keeping it weird, which is probably weirder than, you know, the typical ‘keep Austin weird,'” he said, smiling. “But they get a little bit of a taste of that when they get in there.”
Busti originally opened a gift shop, Lucky Lizard Curios & Gifts, in 2005, with the schtick of live lizards roaming the shop. As the lizards continued to attract clientele, Busti wondered what other unique elements could pique people’s curiosities.
Two years later, Busti expanded the shop to launch the Museum of the Weird. As Austin has grown as a city, so, too, has its tourism scene. Although Sixth Street is known for its nightlife and bar scene, Busti said the shop helps attract visitors in the daytime.
“Almost everyone who comes into Austin, who stops by Sixth Street, ends up in our shop,” he said. “It’s very good for us, for our business, all of the tourism that is coming into the city.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, the Museum of the Weird was forced to shut down for several months along with other non-essential businesses. At that time, Busti said staff pivoted to manufacturing masks to help keep things afloat.
Now, the museum is open daily once again, and business volumes have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels, he said.
As tourism ramps up once again, Busti said he works to curate new and eccentric finds for his shop.
Among the Museum of the Weird’s collection is the Fiji Mermaid, made famous by P.T. Barnum. The shop also has an alien UFO exhibit from an alleged crash that happened in the late 1890s, as well as Big Foot exhibits.
But his favorite, Busti said, is called “The Creature in Ice,” a famous exhibit that used to tour the country in the 1960s and 1970s. Busti’s aunt took him to see the exhibit as a kid.
Forty years later, his aunt passed away as Busti was preparing to open the museum. Reminded of that memory, he spent several years tracking down the exhibit, before he found and purchased it in 2013.
“It was one of my earliest childhood memories,” he said, adding: “And now it’s there at the Museum of the Weird for everyone to see.”