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umor has it that granny came to Silver Dollar City in 1827 to get supplies from the general store. Outraged that she had to wait a month for a wagon train to get them there from out east and the cost of things like lye soap because of it, she decided then and there to make it herself. She joined other locals, and set up shop to sell homemade wares at Silver Dollar City.

That is the story posted outside of Granny’s Lye Soap specialty shop in Branson, Mo., Silver Dollar City (SDC) and don’t you believe a word of it. The true story is that SDC is a replicated old time mining town-themed amusement park built in the 1960s at the mouth of Marvel Cave to entertain waiting spelunkers for the day. And Granny’s real name is Martha, who grew up in Ozark Mountain country and made the soap with her grandmother and great-grandmother. After living in California for a time she and her husband returned to the region, and she really does demonstrate daily at SDC how she makes a mild modern day soap, in some 13 scented varieties.

Martha “Granny” Sudweeks, photographed in early May 2009, with a table of Kerusso patriotic T-shirts at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo. Sudweeks is a popular character icon at the park, which counts Kerusso Christian apparel, jewelry, accessories, toys and gift products among its souvenir inventory. Photo by Christina Courtright.

What Martha likes most about Silver Dollar City is, “Just like in the 1890s, it’s a caring community where neighbors help take care of neighbors, just like a big family.”

Her “community” is set up within the 70-acre park, which has grown now to encompass 30 rides, 150 to 4,000 seat theaters showing 40 performances daily, 12 restaurants and more than 50 specialty shops.

Current time slips away from visitor perception as they meander from one shop to another where the demonstration of handicrafts in-themaking so realistically recreates the bygone era. Bladesmith Ray Johnson makes knives in front of Mountain Outfitters shop, often recounting knife-making history in poetic verse. Down the road apiece, the Brown family performs a humorously entertaining, interactive demonstration at Brown’s Candy Factory as they whip up a wide assortment of confections. Spice scents emanate from Carrie’s Candles, where following an enjoyable, educational, history-rich demonstration, guests can dip their own candles in dipping tanks. Fans can pick up a hand-carved, personalized baseball bat at Casey’s Baseball Bat Cart and then work their way down the road to be blown away by the handblown glass demonstration at Hazel’s Blown & Cut Glass Factory. Here and at Heartland Home Furnishings factory and showroom, set in an old house where furniture pieces are made on antique equipment and displayed in the various rooms, as well as within view of Sarah Gamble's potter’s wheel at Hillcreek Pottery, foot traffic jams up.

“Each is entertaining and unique in character,” said SDC Senior Merchandise Manager, Rick Bilyeu. “We call ourselves the home of America craftsmanship because people can see one-of-a-kind products made, while craftsman walk them through the crafting history of the item and demonstrate its production from raw materials through to finished product, each unique in color and style. Visitors can special order what they want, too. Seeing it done inspires their purchase.”

The souvenir trade is also strong, said Bilyeu. “A wide variety meets demand and when it’s high in any area we step up production for the next season.” Most changes are addressed at annual between-season meetings where the merchandise team discusses product mix changes in existing shops and the opening of new ones, based on market trends and adding intrigue for the strong returning season pass holder base.

Which handicrafts are in demand depend on the marketplace and the SDC souvenir sales fluctuate too.

“Across the board we sell a great deal of pottery, blown glass, and souvenirs associated with rides.” The park-logoed T-shirt is the best selling souvenir item in the park, followed closely by fleece hoodies and the pin trading program that provides a wearable pin to represent each of the events such as the Blue Grass and Barbeque Festival or the summerlong Kids Fest.

Other specialty shops sell items within a particular theme and in the old time style. Love My Country holds a patriotic red, white and blue theme in merchandise and décor. Cowboy Jepp’s is a western themed store and The Greatest Gift sells collectibles to wall hangings in a spiritual theme that offers inspiration and encouragement. The store carries Kerusso Christian apparel and gifts, which has become SDC’s top-selling vendor and has been recognized for the second year on the Inc.’s 5,000 list as one of the fastest growing companies in the United States.

The park first started stocking the shirts to cater to the Christian audience in attendance at two of SDC’s popular annual events, Young Christian's Weekend and Gospel Week.

On either given full day of the Young Christian's Weekend, said Buyer Rhonda Ruzzo, 17,000 teens flood into the park. “Those customers are the ones buying Kerusso product. They're the big focus, along with parents. During the event, we sell about 1,800 Christian themed Tshirts.”

Sell-out event size crowds, record T-shirt sales, and the annual American Religious Identification Survey findings of an averaged 80 percent Christian United States households spoke loud enough to pave the way to the 500-squarefoot, inspirational store within Ozark Market Place to tap into the full-time spending potential of the family, rather than just the teens at special events.

“The benefit of placement within the Market Place is that it’s an exit shopping area, where everything is pulled together and presented with several mini shops within it,” said Ruzzo, who buys product for a third of the shops.

“The best selling T-shirts are designed so that young people can relate to the shirt theme,” according to Ruzzo. “God is My Hero” is a takeoff on the video game Guitar Hero and “Jesus Died For MySpace in Heaven” is big with young people because everybody that knows about the website MySpace can relate.”

Another Kerusso T-shirt line incorporates the latest hip graffiti style artwork, hot in the mainstream market and appealing to young people. The “Christ is the Cure” print is a new design to the SDC store this year.

Ruzzo makes full use of the display opportunities provided by Kerusso. The Lighthouse Apparel Center holds 20 designs folded onto the tower fixture, which when it spins, allows customers to view the graphic on each face-out folded design to know what's inside the cube beside it. Product is also folded on nesting tables, hanging face out on the wall, and represented on two posters depicting models wearing the various shirts and on a large banner that surrounds the entire top level of the store. It’s message, “Change Your Shirt! Change the World™” grabs attention. The banner is part of a campaign Kerusso launched in response to a study reviewed in Impressions magazine that said, “The average T-shirt may be read as many as 3,000 times before it’s thrown away.”

“The retail experience is all about creating lasting memories, from the handcrafted specialties down to the parklogoed souvenir key chain,” said Bilyeu. As SDC enters its fifth decade, 2 million visitors per year take something home that says the park and the past is unforgettable.















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