Riddle: There’s a store in Grass Valley with a unique business model. The 25 employees all take no pay, the store is managed by committee and all the profits go to a local park. What store is it?
Answer: The Empire Mine Park Association’s Gift Shop at Empire Mine State Historic Park.
Chances are any Nevada County school-aged child has something from this shop because of past field trips, said gift shop coordinator Jennifer Greenfield, but the store’s offerings go far beyond its trinkets. With the holidays approaching — including festivities at the park on Nov. 29-30 — Greenfield and her fellow volunteers are eager to remind Nevada County residents of the variety of the educational, historic and Gold Rush-themed gift items that are for sale at the quaint, rustic shop.
“This store has a double purpose,” said Greenfield. “You can buy great gifts and at the same time support the park and its history.”
Displays in the store are labeled with the goal of educating customers, such as the vast selection of minerals from around the world. A local minerologist combs the market for unusual finds, said Greenfield. For the collector, there are mineral core samples or hunks in their natural, pristine state, and for those in search of a souvenir, there are sherry glasses, ring boxes, pestle and mortars and more. There is also a selection of bowls and art pieces made from fossils and rocks.
Some of the most popular gifts, said Greenfield, are the miniature hard rock miners, made from pyrite and gold leaf.
For history buffs, an entire book area is devoted to the history and technology of hard rock mining. Four books by the late Roger Lescohier are relevant to the Empire Mine’s inner workings, as well as other pamphlets, DVDs and children’s books.
Historically accurate tools and utensils made by the park’s on-site blacksmith are for sale, as are posters, prints and postcards of the mine drawn by local artists, such as Peggy Levine, Mim Meakin and Gay Connor.
Other souvenirs include Empire Mine T-shirts, hats, mugs, spoons — even teddy bears.
“Much of the jewelry is priced so that young people can afford them,” said Greenfield. “Most are priced around $10. Kids come in with $10 or $20 and want to spend every last penny.”
The gift shop is a great place for stocking stuffers, she added. For example, there are tiny vials of gold nuggets or flakes and Gold Rush-themed Christmas ornaments. Satchels are filled with rose petals and lavender taken directly from the park’s garden.
Greenfield has been a park volunteer for nearly 20 years. A master gardener herself, she initially took an interest in the grounds and its history. But she also discovered that she loves to share information with visitors.
“I enjoy the opportunity to share knowledge and history while in the store,” she said. “It’s also fun to hear people’s stories. We get people from all over the world.”
The gift shop is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, but occasionally hours are shortened due to weather or volunteer availability. During the summer months, the store’s hours are the same as the park’s — open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A lot of energy has been put into providing unusual and interesting items, said Greenfield, and prices are competitive because they can buy directly from suppliers.
“It’s definitely worth popping in to see what gift ideas are here, she added. “We even have lumps of coal!”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.