Friday, November 26, 2010

Tom Tom Shop: A Lake George Village Institution

Of all the businesses in Lake George Village, only a few have been owned and operated by the same family for fifty years or more.

That short list includes Fort William Henry, the Lake George Steamboat Company, the Stafford Funeral Home and Mario’s.

Those businesses were joined this year by the Tom Tom Shop, the Canada Street gift and souvenir shop founded in 1960 by Sam and Dorothy Frost and owned today by their son, Doug Frost.

“To have survived fifty years, that’s something to be proud of,” said Doug Frost. “Of course, I’m proud that I’ve been able to carry on a business started by my family. And I’m even more proud of what got us here. You don’t survive for fifty years without earning the trust of your customers, your vendors and the community.”

Those relationships begin with the customers, many of whom visited the shop in its early years and still return, first bringing their children and now returning with their grandchildren.

“The same families come in to shop summer after summer, generation after generation,” says Doug’s sister, Dorothy Muratori, who works in the store in the summers.

A gift shop in a resort village is unlike anything found in a suburban mall or on a city street, says Frost.

“People want something that will remind them of the experience of being on Lake George,” he said

Shopping at the Tom Tom Shop, he said, becomes a memorable experience in itself, one that draws people back.

“We’re here to make people happy,” he said.

Although the Tom Tom Shop sells a variety of gifts and souvenirs, it’s best known for its Native American jewelry, art, crafts and clothing.

“That’s part of our identity, but it’s also what appeals to people. Maybe people connect with Native American arts and crafts because it compensates them for the lack of connection with environment,” said Frost.

The Frosts’ interest in Native American arts and crafts began with Sam Frost’s mother, Loretta Frost.

She made annual trips out west to collect pottery and jewelry. In 1952, she helped Sam and Dorothy Frost start Indian Village, a Lake George attraction on Bloody Pond Road.

“Every summer, we brought entire families of Hopi, Chippewa or Sioux Indians to Lake George, where they would live until Labor Day,” said Sam Frost.

Rather than a theme park, Indian Village was an encampment that people could visit, watch ritual dances and ceremonies and listen to Native Americans discuss their history and lives, Sam Frost explains.

Indian Village burned in 1958. In 1955, the Frosts opened a souvenir shop called the Indian Trading Post on Route Nine.

Before the Northway was built, Route Nine was, of course the gateway to Lake George and the Adirondacks, and the Trading Post’s Teepee was a famous roadside attraction.

But according to Sam Frost, owners of attractions on Route 66 told him that the approaching interstate would divert most of his traffic, and he began looking for a shop in Lake George Village.

The Mayard Hotel burned in 1959, and in 1960 Lake George’s first mall opened on the site.

The Frosts leased the mall’s largest and most prominent store, the one fronting Canada Street. (Doug Frost now owns the mall and the adjacent parking lot.)

“Customers’ tastes haven’t changed that much since the store first opened,” said Sam Frost. “We used to sell a lot of Reservation jewelry, but that’s become too expensive.”

“I don’t buy what I want, but what I know my customers will want,” said Doug Frost.

“The most difficult thing in the retail business is the ability to make changes, to be able to look at something and know if it will appeal to your customers. If I know what I’m doing, it’s because I learned it from my parents,” Doug Frost said.

Frost has worked at the store from the moment he could be of use, he said.

“I grew up in the business; my father said I should learn the business from the bottom up, and I did, working in the stock room, marking merchandise, stocking the shelves. I learned every aspect of the business. Once you put every aspect together, you can run a business successfully,” he said.

Frost also learned from his father that running a business is a full-time commitment.

“Dad always said, you have to be there, in the shop, or you’ll discover you have partners you didn’t know existed,” he said.

But however committed Frost is to his business, he recognizes the value of the slower-paced off-season.

“We’re blessed,” he said. “We stay open year round, but I still have time for my family and the community. And we’re on Lake George, the most beautiful place on earth.”

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Stories written under the Almanack's Editorial Staff byline are drawn from press releases and other notices.

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