For over 30 years, Colors of the West has served as a must-stop souvenir shop for tourists traveling through northern Arizona.

March 30, 2024

Not everyone is familiar with the town of Williams, Arizona, but it ends up being a sure stop for tourists who take the trip across the country on Route 66 as they make their way to the Grand Canyon or other famous spots along the iconic roadway. According to the city’s website, Williams is even nicknamed the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon” being just an hour south of the landmark.

And at one of the quaint town’s retail locations, Colors of the West, visitors can find just about any Route 66 or Grand Canyon-related souvenir they could want. Located directly on Route 66, the 8,800-square-foot store stocks more than 30,000 SKUs across its three large rooms.

Jacque and Mike Besler serve as co-owners of the souvenir shop
Photos: Gabby Wallace

Jacque and Mike Besler serve as co-owners of the souvenir shop. Jacque says she makes sure the store provides a wide variety of styles for its souvenir T-shirts, mugs, signs and more to appeal to just about any visitor. She estimates the store has over 300 styles of T-shirts and over 130 styles of mugs to choose from.

“We have Arizona’s largest selection of souvenir T-shirts for sure,” she boasts.

The family-run shop didn’t start offering such a wide selection of souvenirs overnight, though. Jacque says her father, Roger Hymand, opened Colors of the West in 1990 as a small gift shop to sell handmade pottery and some Grand Canyon-themed souvenirs when he was in his late 60s as somewhat of a retirement gig.

“The store always has been souvenir and Grand Canyon-themed because he realized that there are a lot of travelers to the Grand Canyon. When visitors come to Arizona, that’s the first thing they think of,” she explains.

When Hymand passed away in the early 2000s, the Beslers lived and worked in Phoenix a few hours south of Williams. To honor her father, Jacque says they decided to move to Williams to take over the store and keep it in the family.

“Our kids grew up with it,” Mike explains.

Neither Jacque nor Mike had much retail experience prior to stepping in as owners – Jacque had worked for a bank and Mike made furniture.

Mike adds, “It was a big learning experience for the first couple of years. Still is!”

But the couple seems to have gotten into a groove with retail these past two decades. Since stepping in as owners, the Beslers have significantly expanded the store’s souvenir offerings and even opened a sister store across the street called Copper Canyon Trading when they ran out of merchandising space.

Rooted on Route 66

Jacque shares that the Colors of the West building has a rich history in Williams. The structure was originally built to house a bank in 1912. Over the years, several other businesses took place at the site, including a Greyhound Bus Station, a Pay-and-Take-It grocery store and a Safeway grocery store.

Being in an old building has required some renovations over the years. Jacque says she and Mike applied for and received a $6,000 grant in 2004 to redo electrical work on the building.

Food items and coffee mugs take center stage in the Colors of the West’s “Old Glory Room,”.

“It was a grant for how connected you are to the Route 66 traveler,” she says. “We actually got the grant because we were able to show an old photo showing that the building was part of an old Greyhound Bus Station.”

With a background in making furniture, Mike says he was able to build a lot of the fixtures and displays for the store as well. He says he and his son worked together to build the store’s large T-shirt wall. Mike adds that he spends a lot of time overseeing maintenance for the store.

But with a lot of elbow grease, Mike says he and a few employees help make sure Colors of the West looks very modern and clean for customers.

Something for everyone

Colors of the West also is very well-organized for customers. The 8,800-square-foot building is divided into a few themed rooms. Jacque says customers are often impressed by the store’s 2,500-square-foot T-shirt room that has hundreds of souvenir T-shirt options to choose from for just about any age range or demographic.
Shirts that bear the “Williams, Arizona” name drop are a hit with some guests.

“It’s amazing how many people with the last name Williams come in to buy stuff,” Mike says with a laugh.
But Jacque notes that most customers are drawn to shirts with a classic Route 66 shield on it. “They like simple stuff,” she says.

If a Route 66 shirt doesn’t fit a customer’s fancy, the destination retailer also has a room full of merchandise dedicated to the famous highway. The room has a wide variety of Route 66 souvenirs to choose from, including wall decor, stickers, magnets and mugs.

Meanwhile in the “souvenir” room, over 130 mug options hang along the wall. The room also has plush, signs and other drinkware options.

In 2013, Colors of the West organized an “Old Glory Room” dedicated to merchandise made in the United States.

“People want to, if they can, purchase made-in-America goods,” explains Jacque.

Mike says that room has a variety of souvenirs, including food products, wall hangings, hats, soaps and even alligator heads.

Route 66 merchandise waits in another room around the corner.

Colors of the West leans on a variety of wholesale vendors, many of whom Jacque and Mike have found through various trade shows over the years, including the Smoky Mountain Gift Show and Dallas Total Home & Gift Market. Jacque notes that Smith-Southwestern has been one of the store’s vendors since the very early days of the store.

Jacque and Mike’s daughter Kayla Besler also works for the store. Kayla says the store tries to stand out by always offering new and unexpected souvenirs.

“We’re constantly finding new product, something not every gift shop has,” she says. “Even if it’s a small souvenir, it can make a big impact.”

A family feel

Jacque credits the store’s success in large part to its team of employees. She says a team of between 17 to 25 employees work for both Colors of the West and Copper Canyon Trading. Many employees have been with the company for at least 10 years, with one employee having been to the store for nearly 20 years.

“We have more of a family atmosphere than a working atmosphere,” says Jacque. “A lot of our employees say this is the only place they’ve ever worked where they want to go to work.”

Jacque and Mike also like to involve employees in decision-making processes for the store, making sure everyone’s voice is heard.

“When we make a decision in the store, it’s not just between ourselves,” says Jacque. “We get the input of the employees. If we did this, how would it affect everything? We really listen to everybody’s ideas and we brainstorm a lot.”

Looking to the future of the business, Jacque and Mike hope Colors of the West maintains its family-friendly feel.

Mike concludes, “Roger said he wanted this to stay in the family. We’re hoping Kayla takes over some day. We’d like to be third-generation or fourth-generation owned at some point.”