When the original Nature Store at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center was damaged beyond repair in a fire Feb. 17 of 2014, Donna Steakley was devastated.
“When the store burned two years ago, I cried and thought the world had ended,” said Fossil Rim’s director of tourism. “People said ‘you’ll see – a bigger and better one will be built.’ A terrible event turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was a hard process that took teamwork from every person at Fossil Rim, but it is bigger and better.
“Starting from scratch, we were able to design everything. Louis (Pienaar, support services co-manager – projects) designed the outside of the new store and I designed the inside, so Louis definitely gets credit for the key part he played.”
Like many aspects of Fossil Rim, the generosity of supporters proved crucial to the construction of a new Nature Store.
“We received grants from the Moody Foundation and the Eugene McDermott Foundation, we sold bricks to be used in the construction that donors could put their names on and we received vendor donations,” Steakley said. “All those factors combined to pay for the new store at a cost of $750,000. The relationships we’ve built over the years are lasting – people care. All the money we make in the store goes right to feeding the animals, so we need people to continue to care.”
The addition upgraded the entire Overlook area, according to Steakley, after the new Nature Store opened in March 2015.
“We have the new Nature Store, a new parking lot with a lot more space and the best view in Glen Rose,” she said. “You can watch the giraffes eat while you eat (at the Overlook Café). We now have a handwashing station outside, plus our number of bathroom stalls in the Nature Store more than doubled from the old store.
“I hear guests walk in and go ‘wow, this is nice!’ We all take pride in this store and it still looks new, plus we’re always changing the layout.”
On a related note, the Children’s Animal Center added more parking spaces.
As proud as she is of the building itself, Steakley puts a lot of effort into filling the Nature Store with the best-possible inventory.
“We have one of the biggest gift selections in Glen Rose for any occasion and we get new items every day,” she said. “We work with vendors to get items that only we have. The sales generated from this store are much higher than our previous one.”
Inventory categories include items like jewelry, plush animals, toys, rocks and fossils, home décor, apparel and accessories, assorted gift items and “anything you might need during your visit here.”
“Our biggest sellers have been the plush animals, but t-shirts have caught up in the last couple of years and we sell a lot of mugs,” Steakley said. “We have hundreds of styles of plush animals from realistic to Destination Nation, giraffes in different colors and much more. We try to have most of the animals you can see at Fossil Rim.
“We have Lantern Press postcards, magnets, keychains and patches with vivid photos of our actual animals. Some hot items I’d point out would be Urban Jewelry bracelets, sublimation socks with animal graphics, plush backpacks, a jigsaw puzzle of an actual Fossil Rim picture that will tell the story of the park on the back and we also have a ring display.”
There are some handmade items available.
“We do have some consignment items made by people in the area, such as walking sticks, painted rocks and antler necklaces,” Steakley said. “Visitors can ask us to show them the handmade items.”
The decision was made to relocate the tours department into the Nature Store when plans were drawn up. As guests approach the Nature Store, they will see the tour vans and the office in the front left of the building.
“Now, nearly all tours leave from here,” Steakley said. “Before, tours started at the front gate, and those guests only had 15 minutes to spend at the Overlook area. Now, they can visit us up here before or after tours, plus people aren’t taking up all of the parking at the front gate.”
In her 11th year working for Fossil Rim, Steakley enjoys her job even more due to a staff she can count on.
“Our store staff is a happy group that takes pride in their work,” she said. “I’m proud of every one of them.”
Speaking of the staff, Nature Store Lead Retail Associate Sara Curtis joined the Fossil Rim team two years ago.
“After a few months working at the front gate, I started in the temporary Nature Store about a week after the original building burnt down,” Curtis said. “The transition into the new Nature Store was wonderful. We went from this tiny space to this huge building with an awesome storeroom.”
Like Steakley, Curtis is hearing positive feedback from Nature Store visitors.
“I hear a lot of people say this store is something beautiful and different,” she said. “They like that it feels open instead of cluttered. I think people should check out our Lantern Press items with pictures of our animals on them. You can get the same image on postcards, a patch for your jacket, a sticker and a keychain.”
For more information, call the Nature Store at 254.898.4262 or email email@example.com.
“You can call the store, order an item and we’ll ship it out,” Steakley said. “If you haven’t seen the store, come by for a visit and check it out. Have lunch, stop by our Children’s Animal Center and then let us help you find that perfect gift.”
To learn more about the neighboring Overlook Café, check out http://wp.me/p3oqTk-ou.
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate