Closing Up ShopFor more than a century, the Verkamp family has run an eponymous gift shop on the South Rim of the Canyon. This month, the doors close forever.
By David Schwartz
Mike Verkamp grew up in the venerable shop that sits just steps away from the South Rim. He lived in its cozy, second-floor quarters, along with his parents and six siblings, and he worked downstairs at an early age. He would later manage Verkamp's Curios for more than two decades, preserving the long-standing family business and helping continue its storied legacy.
But for the Verkamp family, those days are almost over. Their 102-year-old business, which sells an array of Native American arts and crafts and more to countless Grand Canyon visitors, will close its doors for good on September 30.
Gone from the landscape will be what is be-lieved to be the oldest family owned and operated gift shop in the national park system.
"The frustration has pretty much all passed," says Verkamp, 66, who retired as general manager in 1996, but still sits on the board that oversees the business. "We're all getting up there in years, and it was time to cut the umbilical cord."
Verkamp says the family struggled before deciding against bidding again for the contract. Park officials say there was already enough retail in the area and did not consider bids from three others. Instead, the National Park Service paid the Verkamps nearly $3.2 million for the property, and it's still deciding what to do with it.
The building opened on January 31, 1906, with its trademark limestone fireplace and wide views of the Canyon's horizon. Over the years, a stream of sightseers and dignitaries have visited, including movie stars and politicians.
Three generations of Verkamps have worked inside the shop, stocking shelves and collecting a basketful of memories that still linger today. Like the time actor Richard Chamberlain visited the store with his grandmother, with Nav-ajo rugs on their shopping list. A cocky 15-year- old Mike Verkamp, making a whopping $1.25 per hour, handled the sale.
"I laid out five or six nice, big rugs that cost anywhere between $200 and $1,200," he recalls. "She said, 'Let's buy them all.' "
Then there was the time Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey came calling. "He spent quite a bit of money, and wanted to pay with a personal check," Verkamp says. "Dad made him pull out his Senate ID card. He made him show ID. We all laughed about that."
And then there was country music's Roger Miller, who worked briefly at the shop only to be fired for his poor sales skills.
"You can't help but be a little sad," Verkamp says. "It's a part of who we are. There's a certain sense of sentimental loss now that it's closing."