Idaho Memories Gift Shop focuses on providing meaningful gifts and souvenirs to remind people of their time in the Gem State.

Nov. 11, 2023

In the heart of Lewiston, Idaho, Newberry Square invites passersby to check out its mini shopping center. As customers walk into the building, a well-lit walkway invites them to check out six storefronts: The Mad Hatter Tea Shop, Imua Hawaiian Restaurant, Skalicky’s Sweet Sensations Bakery, Nez Perce Tourism, Vine 46 and finally Idaho Memories Gift Shop at the back of the building.

Idaho Memories Gift Shop Owner Vikky Ross says she doesn’t mind that her store is at the back of the building.
“I knew in my heart of hearts that I could create a shop that would pull customers from Main Street all the way to the back,” she says.

Helping to draw customers to the shop, a 6.5-foot-tall wood-carved Bigfoot greets customers outside of the gift shop. Ross jokes that customers almost always want to pose to take pictures with him.

“He has big hands, so you can hold his hand or give him a hug. He’s an awesome photo op,” she says.
Ross decorates the store with timber, wood chips, pinecones and moss to give it a Pacific Northwest feel. She says her husband, John, built all the store’s displays using reclaimed bins and wooden window frames to showcase merchandise.

Idaho Memories Gift Shop specializes in items specific to Idaho, such as gemstone jewelry as well as huckleberry and potato products. Ross describes huckleberries as like blueberries but smaller and very tart. They are the state fruit of Idaho.

The store also features must-have souvenirs, including magnets, keychains, mugs, themed cards and shot glasses. Customers appreciate the fact that the store stocks high-quality products at reasonable prices, according to Ross.

“I maintain a margin of profitability without having to charge at an exorbitant price,” Ross explains.

Ross often hears customers laughing as they read sayings on T-shirts and signs hanging throughout the store.

Kids love looking through the store’s sticker and rock selections. If a kid is having a bad day, she usually lets them dig through her rock bowl to take home a rock for free.

“It’s a happy, cheerful place,” she says of the gift shop.

From restoration to retail

Before opening Idaho Memories Gift Shop, Ross and her husband John owned a company called Moscow Glass & Awning in Moscow, Idaho, that installed residential and commercial windows and doors until they retired in 2015.

Ross also had a side business with her identical twin sister, Nikky Hites, renovating historic buildings around the state. Until 2018, the sisters renovated about 15 buildings.

Geodes, mugs and apparel speak to customers at the Idaho Memories Gift Shop looking to take home a piece of the Gem State. And if that doesn’t work, the Bigfoot outside calls them to take a closer look.

For their final project, Ross and Hites renovated the Newberry Square building. The building had previously housed J.J. Newberry 5 & 10 Cent Store from 1932 to 1977 and as Mill End Fabric stores until the mid-2000s. Ross notes that the building was vacant for 18 years until she and her sister purchased it for renovations in 2016. After renovating the building, Newberry Square featured six storefronts on the first floor as well as nine offices on the basement level.

During that renovation project, Ross tried to buy an Idaho-themed gift for a relative in Denver, but she says she had no luck finding anything in Lewiston. She had hoped that one of her tenants at Newberry Square might open an Idaho-centric gift shop to fill that need. When no prospects came to fruition, Ross decided to fill in the last open storefront with her own shop: Idaho Memories Gift Shop.

In 2018, Ross pitched her souvenir shop idea to the North Central Idaho Small Business Development Center at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston. The center loved her idea, and a mentor offered her some tips to ensure success.

“My mentor said the one thing I needed to think about is, this is seasonal,” she says. “This isn’t a 12-month-out-of-the-year town that has a lot of tourism; there’s going to be downtime.”

“It’s the people part of the store that I love the most – making people happy and visiting with them.” — Vikky Ross

Thousands of tourists come to Lewiston every year, thanks to several riverboat cruises that dock in town on the Snake River from April until November. Ross says several farming and fishing groups like to host conferences in Lewiston in spring and summer, too.

But few people frequent Lewiston come February and March, so Ross’ mentor advised her to stock products that would appeal to local customers. So Ross made sure to stock Idaho-centric foods, such as huckleberry jams. Her family also developed a line of lentil soup mixes called Gold Dredger to sell that has been a hit with the locals.

Offering pieces of Idaho

Since opening Idaho Memories Gift Shop, Ross estimates 40% of customers are from the local community and 60% are visitors.

Huckleberry products appeal to tourists as well as the locals who keep the business humming in the off-season.

Ross stocks plenty of gifts that appeal to locals visiting the store, including her selection of huckleberry products as well as dry soup and dry potato mixes. She says she partners with Homemade by Dorothy, a small business in Boise, Idaho, for many of these gourmet food gifts. Ross also features some locally made hot sauces, soaps, leather, jewelry and photography.

“I probably have about 15 solid partners for locally made products,” Ross says.

Many books sold in the store offer information on Idaho’s history as well as gold camps and silver mines in the state.

She also purchases plenty of souvenirs from wholesale souvenir companies to appeal to tourists visiting Lewiston. She stocks Idaho-shaped playing cards, postcards and many mugs. Since Idaho is potato country, the store also offers potato-shaped mugs, salt and pepper shakers, ornaments and even potato heads with cowboy hats.

Since Idaho is the Gem State, customers also can find a variety of gemstones and gemstone jewelry in the store. The shop offers some high-quality gemstone jewelry crafted by local artists as well as some lower priced gemstone souvenirs — geodes, bracelets, necklaces and rings — that range in price from $8.99 to $21.95. Ross makes sure customers get story cards with gemstone purchases to explain where they can find these stones.

Overall, Ross says she sells more huckleberry products than anything else in the store. But as for what product comes in second place as a top seller?

Ross says, “Every single day, it’s a smidgeon of this, a smidgeon of that. We’ve curated a really great selection of things, things that speak of Idaho, tell a story and have meaning in different ways to different people.”

Plugged into the community

One of Ross’ biggest fears with starting the store was that she would stock unpopular merchandise. To avoid that pitfall, she tries to get feedback from the store’s customers. She even keeps a notebook in the store for employees to write suggestions from customers, who she says, are the best part of the job. She says, “It’s the people part of the store that I love the most — making people happy and visiting with them.”