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Souvenir shop stocking up on Groundhog Day goods

January 23, 2012

Mary Ann Jacobson, head clerk at Phil's Souvenir Shop, poses with a variety of souvenirs available for purchase at the shop located on West Mahoning Street. Some new items for 2012 include a wall pennant, a beer stein and a soup and spoon mug. Items can also be purchased online at www.groundhogstuff.com. (Photo by Natalie Bruzda/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — 2012 is the year without the plush. But for those behind the scenes at Phil's Souvenir Shop, it's the people — not necessarily the items — who make a Groundhog Day successful.

"I think the tourists and the people who come into the store are the most interesting," said Mary Ann Jacobson, the shop's head clerk.

"They're all happy to be here. When they're looking at your stuff, you see them smiling and laughing, and it makes for a happy atmosphere."

The atmosphere surrounding last year's Groundhog Day celebration was very memorable for Jacobson, but not in the way she had hoped.

A Feb. 1 ice storm rolled in to town, with a second ice storm predicted for the annual celebration Feb. 2, putting a severe dent in the number of tourists who visited the store — and consequently, the number of items sold.

"Everything is based on the weather for Groundhog Day, as far as the store and how well we do," Jacobson said. "It's mainly based on how the weather is — how many people show up. Last year was our worst year."

So Jacobson, who has worked at the shop for eight years, is hoping for a major turnaround, even without one of the store's most popular items — a Punxsy Phil and Phyllis plush.

Since 2003, when the Ty Beanie Baby fad hit Punxsy, tourists and locals alike have gone crazy for the Phil plush.

Jacobson remembers her first Groundhog Day at the shop in 2005. A line of people, eager to get a new Ty Beanie Baby, extended from the shop's front doors all the way to The Medicine Shoppe.

"I'll never forget when I came to work that day," she said.

From 2003 to 2009, the shop sold Punxsy Phil Ty Beanie Babies, but when national figures started to drop off in 2009, Ty quit making them, and the Groundhog Club picked up from there in 2010 and 2011 with its own plush item.

"This is the first year in nine years that we haven't had a plush Phil to sell for Groundhog Day, so this is taking us back now to the days before, and we don't really remember what that's like," Marlene Lellock, executive director of the Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce, said.

Because the ice storm took a toll on the number of plush toys sold in 2011, the Chamber still has a surplus from the sale, which is why it couldn't afford to purchase one for 2012.

"The plush always makes a big difference," Lellock said. "But with the weather last year, we still have quite a large quantity left."

Despite the setback, the shop seems to be rising to the challenge.

Since Jan. 1, the shop has filled almost 500 Web orders from its Web site, www.groundhogstuff.com.

The store has also received some new items for 2012 which are doing very well, Jacobson said.

The new items include a Groundhog Day beer stein; a soup and spoon mug; a wall pennant; and a doggie T-shirt.

Jacobson has already had to reorder more soup and spoon mugs, which debuted in the shop, located on West Mahoning Street, only a few weeks ago.

"We're always trying to think of new things," Jacobson said. "Sometimes, you think of a new item, and you want to bring it into the shop, but it's the quantity that matters. With some of the items, you are required to order mega-amounts of it, but you can't possibly do that in a small store."

The small store, however, has done quite well for itself over the years.
One of Jacobson's favorite items — the knit groundhog hat with eyes and a tail — is an item that many other people, both adults and children, fall in love with as well. It's even appeared on "The Today Show."

"It's a little bit goofy, but it has always done well for us every year," Jacobson said. "That always seems to be a big seller. And if they wear it to the Knob, it keeps their ears warm."

Lellock also has a favorite item — the real-life size Punxsutawney Phil plush with a red bandana around its neck. But she, along with the rest of her Chamber of Commerce staff, also like collecting a new T-shirt every year.

"We all pretty much have 10 to a dozen in our closets," she said.
These popular items wouldn't be around however, if people weren't there to buy them.

On a good Groundhog Day, the line from the shop extends down the block and along North Findley Street, filled with anxious out-of-towners awaiting entrance into the store.

"Each year is different," Jacobson said. "There's something unique about each year — the tourists are different every year."

Recently, Jacobson took a phone call for a group of doctors who wanted to order Punxsy Phil slippers for the big day.

But up until Feb. 2 — which is now less than two weeks away — the shop's staff will continue to fill Web orders and prepare for the onslaught of tourists.

"There's never a dull moment," Jacobson said.

Phil's Souvenir Shop will be open from 9 a.m. to midnight Wednesday, Feb. 1 and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 2. For more information about the more than 300 items offered by the Souvenir Shop, visit www.groundhogstuff.com.

 

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