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SAND POINT – In a corner, a man leans against the wall, his eyes closed.
In another area, two women peek through piles and shelves of clothes. In yet another, a child appears to be licking her arm, and in a fourth, a woman has her hands on her hips as she talks to the store clerks.
“It’s kind of like, ‘Where’s Charlie? “” Heather Upton, executive director and curator of the Bonner County Historical Museum, said of the photo that details the Jennested department store in the not-so-distant past.
As part of the museum’s new exhibit “Whoever Went to the Market: The History of Trade in Bonner County,” the photo is one of my favorites, Upton said. Dominating one of the walls of the gift shop at the entrance to the museum, the photograph is a link to the past, but also highlights the importance of the region’s traders and their role in the community.
“It fills my heart with joy to see this come to life,” Upton said. “Having the history of commerce in the gift shop has been a goal of mine for a long time, and it naturally makes sense.”
Housed in the museum’s gift shop, the exhibit is folded into space, creating a hybrid experience, Upton said. It allows the museum to showcase both the history of the museum and the items available for purchase, such as books on the history of the area.
It captures snapshots of various merchants, from variety stores to drugstores and hardware stores as well as butchers and grocery stores. It touches on Harold’s IGA, a downtown landmark now lost in history, with several artifacts from the store. It also features the Sear catalog, the Amazon of her day, with items purchased from the thick books displayed on a shelf, with visitors given the opportunity to match the item to the price that would have been paid.
Many items, such as the shoes that volunteer Sue Graves wore as a child, also include their original packaging and receipt. Others show customization available from local traders, such as a cluster of bottles dating from a local pharmacy.
“It was really cool [in putting this exhibit together] to see all the personalization that all the merchant stores have done, ”Upton said. “And just beautiful, beautiful craftsmanship, you know. “
Among the items on display in the exhibit are items from Jennested’s estate, from clothing, scrapbooks and journals to business stamps, business cards and order books. Upton said she heard about the objects when, in her previous role as an antique dealer and museum curator, she was contacted by someone who had vintage clothing for sale.
“As I looked at these objects, I could see that there was a story here, and there was a story,” Upton said.
Speaking to the donor, she learned that they were from the Jennested family. As she looked at the objects, hidden in the basement of a historic house in Sandpoint, the donor saw Upton recognize their importance and showed her even more objects.
“She saw that I understood the meaning of this collection,” Upton said. “And I started to cry when I saw all of a sudden the doors opened and this whole thing was revealed. And it was really like a missing piece of the [community’s]puzzle.”
Donor Heather Pedersen ended up donating the collection to the museum to preserve this story for the community, Upton said.
This donation served as a starting point for the exhibition, allowing it to talk about the community’s “legacy stores” – stores that connect the past to the present to the future. From Jennested’s the store became Jennested & Larson’s, then to Larson’s, which still serves the community today.
In addition to the photo that captured a scene in the store, the exhibit features hats once probably worn by Ollie Jennested.
“What’s cool about Ollie is that he was a businessman,” Upton said, showing off one of the hats as it reminded him of the man who once wore it. “One of my favorite stories about him is that he would snowshoe up to the logging camps and measure the men and make them woolen clothes.”
Like the other merchants featured in the exhibit, Jennested is committed to ensuring that customers have everything they need.
“Every time I do a new exhibit, I collect more historical information from the community, which is really fun,” Upton said. “And from the oral histories we did, I thought that was a really interesting fact, you could get everything you needed within two blocks of downtown. And that is. a really special thing to think about. “
Upton said she learned that not only are the stores a pleasure to browse, but the owners – and their employees, often family members – are a unique and wonderful bunch as well. Putting the oral histories together, Upton said she heard about the butcher’s son at Economy Grocery quickly sketching something on the butcher’s paper after wrapping the customer’s order.
The butcher’s son? Ward Tollbom, who became a renowned artist and opened his own downtown gallery, Hen’s Tooth Studio.
“Apparently there was a woman who had been keeping her sketch for over 50 years,” Upton said. “And she came in and asked him to frame it for her. I love that we can also share the current story through this exhibit.”
Photographs capturing the community’s business history are presented, almost larger-than-life, from the Humbird Lumber Company’s commercial store to a Sear’s clerk helping a customer order from the catalog to the stage at Jennested’s.
“Some of the stories are going to be new information for people,” Upton said. “But really, this exhibit is going to be pretty nostalgic for a lot of people, because they might actually know people in this photo.”
Other objects, such as a watch, a clock and a piece of jewelry in the shape of a large pocket watch, are used to contain a narrative label welcoming visitors to the exhibition. Unearthed in Priest River, the panel was previously used as part of the museum’s “Once Upon a Time in Bonner County” exhibit.
“It’s always fun to highlight and showcase all of these important items that are part of the million pieces that we store in our collection and that we continually preserve,” Upton added.
Hosting a holiday open house that also served as the show’s opening, Upton said she heard about the holiday music being played downtown by Recall Drug. Combined with evergreen arches decorating the streets and stalls created by local traders, the city center was a special place during the holidays.
“It was really like a Norman Rockwell Christmas scene,” Upton said.
Creating exhibits such as “The One Who Went To The Market” or “Once Upon A Time” takes months of planning and organization – and the help of the museum’s amazing and talented volunteers. From printing copies of documents – museum policy prohibits showing the originals – to finding information to create the stories of the exhibits, volunteers are essential, Upton said.
“The exhibits are interesting because they are such a layered entity,” she said. “So you want to find the best stories, and then you marry the objects, the photos, the archival material to that. And, then, you create that visual that makes sense in a particular space you’re working in. But then you too, each object must have information about what it is and who gave it. So it takes a lot of time. “
Volunteers contribute to this and are a key part of the museum. And, Upton said, there’s room for more, too.
We are always looking for new volunteers. General support for the museum through sponsorships and donations is always welcome and important, Upton said.
“At times like this it’s been really cool to see our community and all of the grants are focused on helping those in need which is definitely number one in my book. ‘is also what I supported, “she added. “But it’s been tough for museums and museum culture, you know, especially in the grant environment, so we really appreciate everyone’s support that they’ve given us.”
To learn more about the museum or to volunteer, go online at bonnercountyhistory.org.