One of a kind: The gift shop has been a landmark in upstate New York for 60 years
By Chuck D’Imperio | Contributing writer
The TePee is located on scenic Route 20 in Cherry Valley and has been in the same location for over 60 years. This road was once the main east / west route between Albany and Buffalo. With the advent of the New York State Thruway many years ago, Route 20 slowly began to decline. Many small towns, businesses and attractions have struggled. But the TePee still stands proudly on an elevation overlooking the Mohawk Valley.
Inside this iconic roadside monument, you will still find many objects that you remember seeing here as a child. They offer a wide range of Native American products, from jewelry to clothing to musical instruments. Most of the northern tribes of the state are pictured here with handmade items as well as books on the history of the area and the Native Americans who were the valley’s original inhabitants. Other traditional gifts, such as old-fashioned candy, souvenir mugs and T-shirts, fill the many shelves.
Robin Bridger has been associated with TePee for almost a quarter of a century. “I love it here,” she told me. “We now have grandparents who come with their grandchildren to see this wonderful memory from years ago. We are a place that brings back a lot of smiles to a lot of people.” Robin is seen here in the moccasin section of the store. These are authentic, come in many shapes, styles and colors, and are popular with tourists.
By far TePee’s bestseller is the Indian tam-tam. “We are struggling to meet the demand for these drums,” said partner Rhiannon Fralick. “We sell hundreds of them during the tourist season. We have them in all sizes and at all prices. Children and adults alike appreciate them. Some adults tell us that they still have the drums they bought 20 and 25 years ago. This is definitely the most popular article at TePee. “
This iconic souvenir shop hosts many cultural and fun events throughout the year. Their “Customer Appreciation Weekends” take visitors a hundred miles away. On these days, cars line Route 20 on both sides and fill the grassy median. Pete Latella, a descendant of the original owners, operates the TePee Pete’s Chow Wagon in the parking lot. It provides visitors with sandwiches, meals and drinks of all kinds and is known in the region for its famous chili. I have tried it. It was hot and spicy and delicious. When TePee Pete leans out the window and asks, “Can you handle a shot of 7 Pepper Chili Chow Wagon?” ” say yes! You will receive a free sample!
The TePee recently celebrated the restoration of the original electrical panel, which protrudes from the 50-foot-tall structure beckoning guests off the highway. Finally, after many decades, it shines bright red neon again!
One of the side perks of stopping in front of this nostalgic little snow globe is the view down the road. You can see 30 miles high and out into the beautiful Mohawk Valley from the parking lot. It’s heartwarming that a place that many Upstaters remember from their childhood over a generation ago is still open and brings smiles to thousands of people of all ages all year round.
7632 US Highway 20
Cherry Valley, New York
Read more: Hidden gems in upstate New York