Colleen Moore
Special to the Bonanza

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January 11, 2013
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Meet Your Merchant: The Potlatch offers gifts, souvenirs and more for locals, visitors

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - One the oldest retail stores in all of Lake Tahoe is located in the middle of Incline Village. The Potlatch, known for its Native American jewelry, opened its doors in 1970 and has been a family operation since.

The store was originally founded by the grandparents of current owner, Lisa Nelson. Nelson's mother, Lynn Brown, took over in 1987, and eventually passed the business on to Lisa and her husband, Aaron Nelson.

The Potlatch is named after a Northwest Indian gift giving ceremony, the couple explained. Members of the tribe gain status in the community by giving items away. The more items one would give, the higher status they received. The store itself has heavy Native American influences, selling handmade jewelry hand-picked by Lisa Nelson.

Lisa goes on two major buying trips a year - to New Mexico, the Four Corners and the Rio Grande areas. The family has been working with various artists for years, she explained.

"It's like a family down there," she said.

The shop carries a large selection of items from Artie Yellowhorse, a family that has been making jewelry for 300 years.

Working with small companies is a mainstay for their business, the Nelsons said. The Potlatch works with 1,000 to 1,500 vendors, most of whom are small businesses based in the U.S. The store has countless items, from clothing, Lake Tahoe souvenirs, furniture, signs and candles.

"We try to keep our prices low. We want people to know that Tahoe doesn't have to be expensive," Aaron said.

Prices at The Potlatch are often better than those you might find at larger stores, he added. For example, the store's Burt's Bees merchandise is lower than Walmart prices, he said, adding that he and Lisa want visitors and locals to know there's an alternative to driving to Reno or Carson City.

"We want the locals to come back," Lisa said.

Selling at lower prices allows the store to turn over items quickly, and therefore get new items in just as fast.

"We're constantly buying throughout the year," Lisa said.

While The Potlatch is known for its jewelry and gift items, it also has a growing selection of handmade furniture and home decor. The store works with a furniture maker in Montana who uses pre-burned wood for furniture, making it sturdy and reliable, Aaron explained.

"We spend lots of time looking for the highest quality goods," he said. "We stand by anything we sell."

The store is also known for its community involvement, offering assistance in any way it can to various community events and charities.

"We're the Ticketmaster of Incline," joked Aaron, considering the store sells tickets for events, such as Sierra Nevada College concerts. "We love our locals."

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 11, 2013 11:42AM Published Jan 11, 2013 11:41AM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.