Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Two retail locations mean twice the chance to raise awareness and sales
The Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CCVNP) does whatever it takes to draw people into their unique gift stores, not only to buy souvenirs, but to visit and learn more about the only national park in Ohio.
“We opened our stores to provide additional ways for the many visitors to Cuyahoga Valley National Park to enhance their park experience,” said Janice Matteucci, C.O.O., CCVNP. “They may be buying a souvenir, getting information about the best place to hike, waiting for the train or just stopping to sit at one of the picnic tables next to our store to take a break after a long bike ride. No matter what, our goal is to engage people in becoming part of our national park – to visit it, protect and conserve it for all people, for all time.”
Tree Top Tips
Established as a nonprofit organization in 2002, the CCVNP’s mission is to engage public support for and enhance public use and enjoyment of the park. To promote and grow the national park financially, they operate a variety of programs and services that include fundraising for park projects and two retail locations.
Built in the early 1900s, Trail Mix is an 880 square foot store in a historic building located right along the Ohio and Erie Canal towpath in the heart of Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP).
With décor reminiscent of the period between 1916 and the 1950s and a variety of antique items used for display, the store features park souvenirs and local products like Mitchell’s homemade ice cream, and offers information to visitors hiking and biking along the towpath. Matteucci said the store has become a destination in and of itself.
“We’ve found that folks biking or hiking on the towpath like to stop and enjoy ice cream while sitting on the front porch or side picnic tables with the river flowing just a few hundred feet away,” Matteucci said. “This year we moved the cooler that holds the Mitchell’s ice cream to a very prominent spot at the back of the store so people have to walk all the way through the store (past other goodies) to make their way to the ice cream cooler.”
Along with ice cream, honey, hickory syrup, jam, local homemade candy, pickles and a variety of other items from local farmers are highlighted, and kids can play with toys and old-fashioned items, like a butter churn, that spark their interest.
Located just a couple miles down the road in the boundaries of CVNP is Park Place, a gift/souvenir shop carrying everything from national park apparel and coffee mugs to local art and items reflecting the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Formerly a bookstore, the building has four distinct areas for display, including a full size replica of a tree trunk that has a spiral staircase for children (and adults) to use to ascend to the second floor.
“At Park Place this past holiday season, we opened the Tree Top Shop, a shop set up just for kids to do their shopping for family,” Matteucci said. “To get to the Tree Top Shop, you have to climb up the staircase in the tree and once inside the shop, there are elves there to help the children pick out and wrap their gifts. Parents agree in advance as to how much the children can spend and for whom (parent, sister, brother, grandparent, etc.), and once in the shop they find gifts in those different price ranges ($5, $10, etc.).
“Some of the gifts were handmade photo frames and ornaments that have photos of the children that we took right there and printed off on the high quality color printer,” Matteucci continued. “These were very popular and meant a lot to the recipient.”
Children can also celebrate a birthday in the Tree House at Park Place “the natural way” with a private room rental, a one-hour Bug Safari or Nature Detective program, birthday cake and decorations.
All About Local
The ice cream served up at those birthday parties and at Trail Mix isn’t the only local product visitors can find. Buying local seems to be catching on with many people and there are sections in both stores called “All About Local” that highlight these products with dynamic displays and signage.
“We are fortunate to have a lot of local producers in this area and first look to the farmers who are farming in the valley to see if they have packaged product that we can carry,” Matteucci said. “From that we get two or three different products that have the right shelf life. In addition, different people come to us with ideas and we have settled on a couple of key items that have a good following.”
Matteucci said they have stringent criteria for those that they choose and carry repurposed and reused products like pottery and jewelry created with infused marble, wood and metal based on sustainable practices. CVNP is also fortunate to have a photo society with more than 200 nature photographers as members.
Many of these photographers have created a line of Cuyahoga Valley specific cards, posters and framed photos of the many sites and locations in Cuyahoga Valley that they carry in Park Place on a consignment basis with individual artists. In addition, one of the photographers, Tom Jones, created a DVD of images set to music that is called, “Cuyahoga Valley In Concert.” They typically have a few sections setup and a rotating gallery in the center of the store to promote these items.
“Supporting local is a commitment we have made as an organization, but we do not make as much on these items as we do on other products,” Matteucci said. “The trade off is necessary, as we believe it is important to stay local as much as possible and to encourage our customers to carry that ideal on in their daily lives. I would like to think that we’d be able to have more affordable products produced locally as the volume increases.”
Matteucci knows that buying is an art, not a science. They’re not in a position to carry a lot of inventory, so they try things out in smaller amounts before committing to any one product. They also try to be thematic depending on events coming up or things happening in the park and make decisions around product within that theme.
But one theme that remains strong is the beauty and conservation of the park. Whether visitors leave listening to the “Cuyahoga Valley In Concert” or simply wearing a new T-shirt and enjoying ice cream on the store deck, they’re supporting the new tagline -“I’m for CVNP.”
‘”I’m for CVNP’ means that everything we do is in support our national park and our customer base, as they are true advocates and supporters of CVNP and truly care for and support their national park,” Matteucci said. “Our goal in promoting and living the ‘I’m for CVNP’ phrase is to engage people in becoming part of our national park- to visit it, protect and conserve it for all people, for all time.”
By Abby Heugel