Making it in Big Sky: JP Woolies
By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – JP Woolies has long been a fixture in Big Sky’s retail scene. Longtime local and now Bozeman resident Jacquie Poisson-Love started the store in 1984 and at first only sold knit hats she made herself, which she called “JP Woolies Hats.”
Over the next 21 years, Poisson-Love moved from her small space upstairs in the Mountain Mall, what is now The Exchange, at Big Sky Resort to the larger, current location across from Big Sky Sports on the ground floor. She grew the shop from wool hats to a full-blown gift shop, offering items for everyone, as she said, “From 8 months to 80 years, we got you covered.”
In 2005, brothers Drew and Tucker Vanyo entered the picture and purchased JP Woolies from Poisson-Love. “When we bought the shop, it already had an awesome array of items and we have tried to carry on with a similar feel over the past 16 years,” the Vanyos said.
Now, JP Woolies has five full-time employees including Drew’s wife, Jennifer, who came on board as a partner in the shop.
Explore Big Sky sat down with the Vanyos to learn more about their business and all of the great products they carry. Their answers are below.
Some answers below have been edited for brevity.
Explore Big Sky: How did you both become involved with JP Woolies?
Drew Vanyo: Tucker and I grew up in Somerset, Pennsylvania. I came to Montana State University for my freshman year, but ended up transferring to Clemson University, where I graduated [with] a degree in marketing. While I was attending Clemson, I would take the spring semester off and worked three winters as a cook at Buck’s T-4 Lodge. During that period, Tucker was attending Virginia Tech, where he graduated with a degree in finance, and would come to Big Sky each spring break. When we graduated from college, we both moved to Big Sky permanently. Soon after moving to Big Sky, our parents met the original owner of JP Woolies, Jacquie Poisson-Love. Jacquie was ready for another adventure in her life and was looking to sell the gift shop. Our parents encouraged us to look at her business and with the guidance of our parents, we purchased JP Woolies in November of 2005.
EBS: Tell me about the products you carry?
D.V.: We offer a large array of items. We are a gift shop located at the base of Montana’s best ski resort, so we try to combine souvenir items with locally made and resourced gifts. We have pottery, artwork and jewelry that is made by different local artisans. We have a large display of t-shirts, hoodies and pajamas. Our toy section has items for local kids as well as families on vacation. Montana sapphires are our best-selling jewelry line, but we have over 20 different jewelers that make jewelry for JP Woolies. Souvenir staples as well; shot glasses, stickers, coffee mugs, etc.
EBS: What is your favorite product in the store?
D.V.: Our favorite items would be our 3-D puzzles that are carved by Peter Chapman from Virginia. The puzzles, which are actually wood carvings, come in a variety of different animals, from moose and bear to dragons and giraffes. Each piece is handmade from one piece of wood and Peter hides a treasure inside each animal. It is a puzzle but also a piece of artwork.
EBS: Do you often partner with local artists?
D.V.: We partner with as many local artists as possible. We have photos from Ryan Turner Photography and Mike Haring; we have antler chews from Big Sky Antler; Pottery from Lulu Pottery, Firehole Pottery and Mountain Arts Pottery; Jewelry from Mac’s Gems, Studio Montana, and Cool Water Jewelry; beauty products from Windrift Hill and Mineral Springs, both Montana made. We also have home décor items by My Home in Montana which are made over in Ennis.
EBS: What is your favorite part of working at JP Woolies?
D.V.: Our favorite parts of working at JP Woolies are, first and foremost, the happy guests we get to talk to on a regular basis. Almost everyone coming to Big Sky is on vacation, so they are typically in good moods and really enjoying the place we call home. Talking with these folks can easily bring a smile to our faces. The second-best part is its proximity to the chairlift. It is fun and easy to get a quick ski break during the winter since we are only 100 yards from Swift Current.
EBS: What is the best business advice you have ever received?
D.V.: The best business advice we have ever received would be: For a business to be successful, the owner must be present and engaged. It is much easier to ask a coworker to perform a task when their boss is doing the same work. Also, customers appreciate the presence of an owner.