NEW YORK - The 9/11 Tribute Museum in Lower Manhattan is set to close its doors for good.
The smaller of two museums built to honor the victims of the September 11 attacks, with business down more than 80% due to the coronavirus pandemic, the institution simply couldn't survive.
"We noticed the numbers were going down, and it was becoming stressful, but when the pandemic started, it was just devastating," said Lee Ielpi, co-founder o f the museum.
The museum opened in 2006, and unlike the better known National September 11 Memorial Museum nearby, which honors the lives of those killed that day, the 9/11 Tribute Museum pays tribute to the survivors and loved ones of those who died.
In Ielpi's case, his son Jonathan, who was a 29-year-old FDNY firefighter within a special unit of Squad 288 in Maspeth, Queens on September 11.
"Jonathan's firehouse also had a hazmat unit there. So in total, 19 men from the one firehouse responded to the World Trade Center and nobody went home that night. They all died," Ielpi said.
Since its opening, the museum has trained more than 1,000 survivors, first responders, and recovery workers, as well as Lower Manhattan residents to share their firsthand experiences.
Museum officials say that over 5 million visitors from around the world have visited to hear those personal stories and little-known facts. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, attendance has dropped nearly 83 percent, down from 150,000 visitors in 2019 to just 26,000 in 2021.
The Tribute Museum does not have an endowment, relying on admission fees which mostly came from international travelers. But the money and people are no longer there, and without some help soon, neither will the museum.
"We've talked many entities and unfortunately right now institutions are in a difficult place," said CEO and co-founder Jennifer Adams Webb. "We've also engaged some of our Senators, Sen. Schumer, Rep. Nadler to try to advocate for some federal funding."
"But it would have to happen very, very, very quickly," Ielpi said.