Arizona gift shops filled with foreign souvenirs

Inside the Sweet Memories gift shop in Tombstone,(Photo by: Kaleigh Shufeldt/Arizona Sonora News)

Gift shops full of Arizona and Western-themed souvenirs and knick-knacks line Allen Street in Tombstone.

They sell similar items. A kokopelli fabric square, pink cowgirl gun, Arizona shot glasses and cowboy hats. The common link between these Old West themed tchotchkes – most are not made in Arizona.

“I get things from everywhere,” said Robert Love, owner of O.K Corral Historic Complex. Love considers his merchandise a product of the global economy.

“A lot of companies now will offer you a choice,” Love said. Items made locally are more expensive, but they will be sent faster. Items made abroad, though cheaper, will take longer for the souvenirs to arrive.

Love said he either buys directly from China or goes through wholesalers based in the United States. However, the wholesale companies usually buy from China and therefore become the middlemen, Love said.

Mugs and Shot Glasses line the shelves on the O.K. Corral Historic Complex. (Photo by: Kaleigh Shufeldt/Arizona Sonora News)

American companies will put labels on products, such as the Arizona shot glasses, Love said. But the shot glasses come from China. This is similar with t-shirts, which are made in China, but designed and printed in the states.

Most stores sell Parris Manufacturing Company cap guns. They are the best quality, Love said. However, most of the Tennessee based company’s products are imported from China, Italy and Spain.

Products made out of the country are less expensive because they are made and bought in bulk. Items made locally are usually handcrafted and more expensive, said Thomas Barr, director of member engagement and operations for Local First Arizona.

Because the products coming out of China are cheaper, Love said he sells the items cheaper in his gift shop.

Customers often say they want locally made products, but then they don’t want to pay for the extra price, said Lilly Hritz, owner of Tombstone Sweet Memories.

Tombstone Sweet Memories has been open for a year and sells items made locally and outside of the country.

Some of the stores most popular items are Montana West leather purses, which are manufactured in China.

The store has Native American leather painted purses made in the U.S., knives with handmade handles made in Tucson and shirts, purses and belts all made in Arizona.

Hritz said she would like to sell more American made western products, such as the toy guns, but she has yet to find a wholesaler or manufacturer.

The gift item industry is very specific. Western themed gifts are especially difficult to find. Love attends gift shows around the country, however there are few Western products.

“The west is not on most souvenir shop agendas,” Love said.

In 2010, Michelle Wolfe and her husband, John, opened Sibley’s West to sell locally made products. The Chandler based gift shop now has over 220 suppliers, all in Arizona.

While not all of Sibley’s West products are southwest themed, they are all sourced in the state. The store sells pottery, glass, soaps, lotions, t-shirts, food and greeting cards, said Michelle Wolfe. And the list goes on.

In the last five years the business has grown and attracted customers from all over the country. Due to the store’s growth in popularity, Wolfe said local suppliers have to apply to be a vendor.

“We are a local business. We want the people to support us,” Wolfe said. And we “want to support others in the community.”

People are looking for more unique items, Barr said. They want to back the community and keep tax dollars local.

By selling locally made products, businesses make an impact of the economy, Barr said, which in turn helps support other jobs and companies.

While Arizona does have wholesale locally made products such as Cheri’s Desert Harvest and Arizona Sun Lotion, there is a deficit in local manufacturers that sell southwestern gifts.

Whether the products are made down the street or across the world, Love said that the customers in Tombstone want one thing. “People want to take something back with them as a souvenir.”

Kaleigh Shufeldt is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at kshufeldt@email.arizona.edu. 

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