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Kremer Pharmacy clerks Michelle Ryan, left, and Julie Nett, photographed with Valentine’s Day merchandise. The store’s owner employs a color layering strategy to make displays stand out.

he best-selling gift items at general and variety stores are often classic keepsakes that remind customers of a previous era. Equally popular are items specific to a store’s region that let visitors bring home the memory of a delightful vacation or day trip. This can be a collectible to showcase or a specialty food to devour.

Kittery Trading Post in Kittery, Maine, is an outdoor shooting sports store and a gift shop. Its best-selling gift items are specialty food items made in Maine, including Bar Harbor Jam, Ray’s Mustard, and Flo’s Relish. “Visitors are looking for a gift to take back, and they want something that’s unique to the state,” said Becky Hall, the gift shop’s merchandise buyer.

The most popular non-food gifts are items that symbolize Maine’s wildlife and its coastline. These items are displayed in groups by theme and animal species. Woods-lovers want to decorate their lodges with everything from dishes to clocks incorporating moose and bear images. Or they buy animal figurines from the 6-foot wide, multi-layered display that resembles a wedding cake. Tourists visiting Maine’s beaches often buy pictures of lighthouses, plush lobsters, lobster dish towels and lobster lollipops.

Everybody’s Store in Deming, Wash., is primarily an organic grocery store, but potential gifts are scattered throughout the store. The store’s vast selection and price range explain its name. A butter churn and a classic toy pedal-tractor are displayed on top of shelves. Elsewhere customers can find Pakistani puppets and Indonesian masks. “It all gives the store character. In our place you don’t know if you’re in a store or a museum,” said Jeff Margolis, the store’s co-owner.

Gift Buyer Becky Hall with Department Manager Gary Littley photographed in the Kittery Trading post with a balsam fir pillow display. The Kittery, Maine store’s most popular non-food gifts are items that symbolize Maine’s wildlife and its coastline. Photo by Laura Pridham, store photographer

These precious antiques can take decades to sell, especially in such a rural location, so Margolis also stocks inexpensive items that sell quickly. At the front counter customers select pocket spirits - small, stamped pewter discs with pictures of animals on the front and an inspirational word, such as “peace” or “initiative” on the back.

Westland Giftware salt and pepper shakers also contribute to the store’s $325,000 in annual sales. They are shaped like animals, foods and people of different subcultures, from hippies to bikers. “They have a tremendous diversity, so you can appeal to different demographics,” Margolis said.

Margolis also has success with items that never go out of style, such as stained-glass windows and accessory musical instruments - flutes, drums and harmonicas. “The question is not what is best, but what has holding power over the years,” Margolis said.

Chrissy Morris and Molly Mates, pharmacy technician and pharmacy manager, of Kremer Pharmacy. “We’re big on candy, but we’re also big on gifts. Even though you’re going in for your pharmaceuticals, there’s a sense of wonder all around because we’re trying to lift your spirits,” the owner said.

With so many groceries and gifts packed into a 1,000-square-foot store, there is hardly an empty spot on the walls of Everybody’s Store. Margolis sees plenitude as an advantage, as long as everything is kept dust-free. “You can’t sell from an empty shelf, but a store cannot be dirty. Clutter can sell, but it better be clean clutter,” Margolis said.

Everybody’s Store’s atmosphere and mystique are what Margolis capitalizes on in his marketing strategy. His advertisements often tell customers to keep the store a secret and to use a password for entry. However, its reputation and its status as a destination store only continue to grow.

Williamsburg General Store in Williamsburg, Mass., attracts customers first and foremost with its fresh-baked breads, ice cream and candy. But its gift items, including locally-made maple syrup, jewelry and kitchenware, also form an important part of its $800,000 in annual sales. “It’s a combination of sight and sound and smell, and it’s a symphony of aromas. We have hot breads coming out of the oven, incense and fresh brewing coffee, and it’s very enjoyable,” said David Majercik, owner.

Mary Thompson, the owner of Kremer Pharmacy, photographed with candles and gifts. Illinois-made 1803 Candles burn for 80 hours and leave no residue, according to Thompson. Photo by Taima Kern

The most popular jewelry items are Silver Forest of Vermont’s variety of silver pieces and Jody Coyote earrings. Its most popular kitchenware items are small plastic pan scrapers and mini spatulas that are, as Majercik described, small enough to scrape the last remains of mustard from a jar.

This 2,000-square-foot store, which Majercik and his wife bought in 1977, is packed with items for sale. It first opened as a general store in 1876, and its ceilings, shelves and creaky wood floors date back to its opening, giving it a very nostalgic flair. An old sawdust-insulated meat locker now stores packs of coffee. “It’s a very authentic New England country store,” Majercik said.

Kremer Pharmacy and Gifts in Fond du Lac, Wis., also has quite a rich history. It has been filling prescriptions and delivering medicine to customers’ homes for more than 100 years.

After Mary Thompson bought the store 20 years ago, she added a large candy section and a gift shop. The 2,100-square-foot pharmacy store sells Oaks, Vande Walles and Raymers specialty candies, which first sold in the 1800s. The recipes are the same today, and they make very popular gifts, Thompson explained.

Molly Mates, manager of the Kremer Pharmacy in Fond Du Lac, Wis., with Lake Girl merchandise. The store lifts the spirits of its clientele with a well-stocked gift store. Photo by Taima Kern

The tops of candy bins are decorated with artificial pink tulips and figurines that enhance the displays and are also for sale. “I call it layering. I layer color on product. I layer whimsy on product,” Thompson said.

Separate from the pharmacy and candy section is a 1,200-square-foot gift shop where the best-selling item is 1803 Candles made in Illinois. “It’s a candle that burns for 80 hours and leaves no residue, and the scents are out of this world,” Thompson said. Hillhouse Naturals diffusers, an air freshening product that uses scented oil and sticks, are also popular there.

“We’re big on candy, but we’re also big on gifts. Even though you’re going in for your pharmaceuticals, there’s a sense of wonder all around because we’re trying to lift your spirits,” Thompson said.

The gift shop also contains colorful furniture that is hand-painted by a local artist, along with a wide array of collectibles. Thompson combines nostalgia with new trends. “I scour magazines for the latest look, and even though we’re really tiny I still will incorporate the latest color. That’s the funkiness of it. We mix old with new,” Thompson said.

Al-Mart General Store in Alma, Colo., is a fairly new store, open since 2007, in a western saloon-style building from the 1800s. With a tin ceiling and an antique bar inside, it brings a nostalgic charm to Alma residents and the many tourists who visit the area year-round to ski, hike and camp in the nearby mountains. Alma is the highest-elevated town in the United States, making Al-Mart the country’s highest general store.

Employee Michelle Haensgen of the Kremer Pharmacy, wearing a funny promotional T-shirt for the store. The shop has been in business for 100 years. Photo by Taima Kern

Its best-selling items are groceries, but next up are soaps made by a local recycling company using biodiesel fuel. “Some people like it because it’s part of the whole recycling movement,” said Karin Kritzmire, co-owner of the store.

More than half of Al-Mart’s business is from the sales of hiking apparel made by national brands such as Carhartt and Sorel. But tourists are most drawn to shirts and hats featuring the Al-Mart name. The appeal comes from the name’s similarity to Wal-Mart and its relation to the town’s name. “People think it’s funny,” Kritzmire said. “It's a play on words that people can relate to.”

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