Heavenly Village’s On Tahoe Time gift shop shows local authenticity
Tucked away behind the ice rink in Heavenly Village, you might not notice the little Tahoe-themed arts and crafts gift shop at first. It’s easy enough to miss when, instead of advertising the store, the sign hanging outside of it — above one of the village’s many covered walkways — promotes a wedding planning business. It’s not listed in the Shops at Heavenly Village directory. There’s a Facebook page but no website to be found. Still, apparently word is out about the shop, perhaps aptly named On TAHOE Time.
While a destination-themed gift shop in a resort town is far from out of the ordinary, On TAHOE Time lays claim to capturing it’s own niche — authentic locally made or designed artwork, jewelry and crafts.
“It’s not run-of-the-mill touristy stuff,” said store manager and one of the shop’s featured artists Christine Miller, crediting the store’s unique items for its popularity.
She, like most, found the store when walking by after watching a movie at the village’s movie theater. That discovery eventually turned into a job.
“It’s been excellent,” she said of the word-of-mouth response to the shop, which opened earlier this year. “Not only from the tourists, but locals are finding us.”
Store owner and longtime Tahoe businesswoman Jana Walker Spano said around 70 percent of her store’s contents are designed or made by local and regional artists. From custom wood ornaments and art pieces to throwback-style painting prints, and repurposed-wood works, the warm and cozy little shop is chock full of unique trinkets and gift ideas.
“The inspiration was to create an authentic store designed for locals,” Walker Spano said. “I figured if I designed it for locals, the visitors would appreciate how authentic it is.”
The locally made idea is one she plans to expand on. In the coming months she said she plans to have 90 percent of her store filled solely with locally or regionally designed arts and crafts.
For Walker Spano — who also owns and operates Sealed with a Kiss women’s boutique and the wedding planning company whose sign hangs outside — On TAHOE Time has been a pet project long in the works.
“(It’s) one of those dream businesses I’ve always wanted to do,” she said.
And for artists like Miller who makes baskets for the shop and wedding business, it’s an opportunity to be showcased in a premium location near the Heavenly Gondola.
“I’m honored that she wanted me to display my brand of baskets,” Miller said, calling it an excellent opportunity for local artists.
Fellow featured local artist Joe Inabinett of Origin Artwork said he appreciates the personal touch.
“Where other shops simply put out our artwork, Jana and her store managers actually take the time to tell the story behind our pieces,” he said. “They really make it a great shopping experience that sets them apart. You wouldn’t be surprised to see (Jana) handing out European sweet tea or a small glass of wine to shoppers as well.”
Together with his wife, Inabinett makes laser-cut woodworks, prominently displayed in the front of the store.
Walker Spano is so intent on keeping the uniqueness of her shop that she’s had some of her artists agree to exclusive deals, meaning she is the only business in the area that can stock certain items. She’s also worked with some of her artists to customize items and trademark some of her slogans.
A number of the pieces also feature specific Tahoe destinations and preferred local spots instead of a more generic Tahoe theme. One print she’s especially proud of includes reference to longtime local Gary Bell’s Sierra Ski & Cycle Works bike shop and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride — a popular South Shore trail.
“I was raised supporting artists,” Walker Spano said of her desire to open the shop. “I felt like this was an opportunity to market artists.”
She said her mother was an art enthusiast that took pride in supporting local arts as well.
As to the popularity of the shop so far, she said, “I had no idea that I would have this kind of crazy response to this store. The amount of walk-by traffic; people are excited to be here.”
In addition to the items in the shop, Walker Spano also takes custom orders which she credited as 25 percent of her current business.
Just five months since opening, she said she’s already thinking of expanding.
“This is definitely a franchise-able concept,” she explained.
But for now, Walker Spano is more than happy with the one location, calling it a dream come true.
More information is available on the shop’s Facebook page.