by Mike Christie
Snowflakes scattered themselves across vision, rooftops, and pavement in Coeur d’Alene. A hallmark January day for a town in Idaho whose Sherman Street looked like the poster child for winter images featuring swirling snow and city.
On the eastern edge of the strip of Sherman street shops sits a store whose appearance seems marketed to accompany the snow, but whose focus seems to have come and gone with the transition into the new year. “Christmas at the Lake” is what they call themselves, they being husband and wife owners Mary and Gregg Peak – who are accompanied by their two dogs Mika and Jensen in the shop. A store whose 365 – day focus is geared toward one day of the year. And a store who, although specialize in something so seasonal like Christmas, benefit from the Coeur d’Alene identity as a place of summer foot traffic.
Coeur d’Alene is known for its summer tourism. Events like their annual Iron Man race draw large crowds; as do a world renowned-resort and golf course. These characteristics make Coeur d’ Alene a place where foot traffic and tourism are quite common. They are what make this town a hot-bed for celebrities like Wayne Gretzky-who hosts a hockey camp during the summer here, and professional golfer Dustin Johnson, Gretzky’s son-in-law. Outside of a mountain lake town in Idaho, a place far less crowded than places like Lake Tahoe, celebrities have their choice of getaway communities in Coeur d’Alene as well. Like one of the two top 50 private golf clubs in the country that are located on the lake, Gozzer Ranch and The Club at Black Rock.
Yet the high-end and resort-type nature of such a place seems foreign and unfamiliar as one steps inside a shop solely dedicated to Christmas. And perhaps that’s its appeal. As ornaments twinkle in sparse cabin-esque lighting and locally made woodwork pieces spell out phrases describing “the most wonderful time of the year,” it’s obvious that there is an unquestionable and genuine love of the Christmas holiday shared between Gregg and his wife Mary. When asked about the love of Christmas in their family, Greg responded immediately with subtle laughter,
“There definitely is. My wife puts up 13 trees.”
The foreign mixing with the natural is what makes up travel destinations in a sense. The foreigners, better known as tourists, help make a destination thrive economically, but the destination itself must keep a unique quality in order to keep their appeal fresh, it must remain, in some sense at least, natural. Coeur d’ Alene is no exception to this rule, and Gregg realizes this.
“The Christmas store model really only works if you have summer and winter business. We have both here in Coeur d’ Alene due to the summer tourist season and we balance that out with a loyal local consumer base during the holiday months” said Gregg.
But instead of all their product coming from elsewhere like the tourists that flood the streets of Coeur d’Alene, Gregg and his wife Mary have put a focus on sustaining the local artist economy just as many of the art galleries located in downtown Coeur d’Alene do as well.
“We work with an excellent woodcarver, a lady that makes Santas, lots of local artisans do stuff for us which is nice in two senses. One being we have exclusivity in products but also because we are helping out the local artist economy,” said Gregg.
Christmas at the Lake and its art gallery neighbors like The Art Spirit feature local artists just as the new Gastropub, Crafted, features local craft beers of the area according to each of their websites. It would seem that Coeur d’Alene has perfected the art of welcoming others in while at the same time staying true to the foundation they are established on, their locals. “Coeur d’Alene is a tourist location but gets away with making nearly everything local,” said Emily Fisher, a Washington State college student familiar with Coeur d’Alene.
And it is obvious that Fishers words ring true as you walk down Sherman street and don’t see any sign of Starbucks or chain coffee, but local coffee shops like Calypsos, Java, and Vault. The same being true with their restaurants. On the outskirts of the town there is a Subway but on the main strip of Sherman you’ll find Inland Northwest originals from the highly reviewed Scratch Bistro to the Brazilian steakhouse Grille From Ipanema.
A Christmas store may seem out of place in January, just as many tourists may seem out of place in a state most regularly associated with potatoes come summer. But Coeur d’Alene is a place that has mastered the art of accommodating that which seemingly doesn’t belong, by having a very independent identity in itself. From local artists markets to craft beer, Coeur d’Alene takes what its local community has, and gives it to the world.
The Club at Black Rock is a prestigious country club located on lake Coeur d’Alene
Emily Fisher stands in the frigid waters of the lake during a snowy January day in Coeur d’Alene