Sisters Dale and Donna Latella are keeping a roadside tradition alive in Cherry Valley.
The two, formerly of Westchester County, have operated The Tepee, a gift and souvenir shop at 7632 U.S. Highway 20 in Cherry Valley, since purchasing it from their father in 2000. Demetrio Latella purchased the shop in 1994, the sisters said, though it began in 1950.
“He’d built a place in Middleburgh and was living up here and … his wife, our stepmom, saw it up for sale,” Dale, 51, said. “They said, ‘Hmm, why not?’ and … operated it for about 5 years. Then we took over and began managing it in 1999.”
Donna, 56, said taking over The Tepee offered a welcome change of pace.
“We were both living in Westchester County and wanted a change,” she said. “It’s much nicer up here and not as crowded. I was working in White Plains and it was just hectic and rat-racy.”
“The opportunity (to purchase it) came,” Dale said, “and we said, ‘Why not? We can do this.’”
Purchasing the four-story, tepee-shaped building meant not only continuing their family’s ownership of the landmark, named in 2011 to national and state historic registries, but preserving a piece of America’s past.
“It’s more of an experience to come to a shop like us,” Dale said. “In the day and age when you can buy anything online, we actually have some things you can’t buy online. We feel it’s extra-special because there aren’t many places like this and there’s not too many like this still operating.”
“It’s a real slice of Americana and we want to keep it going,” Donna said.
The shop, they said, offers Native American-made jewelry and goods, soy candles, locally made soaps, clothing and more.
“I would describe us as pretty eclectic,” Donna said. “We are on a tourist route in a touristy area and we try to appeal to as many different demographics as we can, because all sorts of people from around the world come here.”
“We’re a gift store, but we have a fun flair because of the shape our building,” Dale said, “but we’re not just a souvenir shop. (We have things for) everyone from kids who can pick up a toy to folks looking for native-crafted items. So we do try to appeal to a wide range.
“We’re not just (carrying) made in the U.S.A. (items),” she said, “but we do strive to have a lot of our products made in the U.S.A. We carry locally made products from artists in our community and the surrounding area of Otsego and Schoharie counties … and a lot of the products are made in New York state.”
Minnetonka moccasins, the sisters said, are an especially popular item, carried by The Tepee since its opening in 1950.
The Latellas said customers, known as “Tepee friends,” are as varied as the inventory.
“We have a very loyal local community that loves The Tepee and will come on a regular basis,” Donna said. “And we have very loyal seasonal folks that have a summer camp up here or come up once a year to go to Cooperstown and they make a point to stop at The Tepee. It’s local people and people from overseas and anybody that’s traveling in this area from overseas is more likely than not to stop here, because you don’t see stores like this in Europe or Asia.
“And it’s very mixed ages,” she said. “We get from newborn to 99-year-olds. We have a fantastic view of the Mohawk Valley, so you can come, get something to eat, mosey through the store, go out and sit at one of the picnic tables, eat lunch and enjoy the view. It’s a really great day trip.”
“It’s a tradition (for people) to stop here when traveling,” Dale said, “because they stopped here when they were kids; it’s a generational thing.”
Though The Tepee’s doors are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Latellas said, they hope to reopen in early May and welcome orders in the meantime.
“A lot of our regular customers know our items, so they’ll call and place an order,” Donna said. “And we’re doing online videos two or three times a week, spotlighting different items, so you can go on our Facebook to see (those).”
“We don’t have an online store, but we have a presence with our Facebook and our website,” Dale said. “People can call in, email us and we ship out or do parking lot pick-up and they pay over the phone. We’ll probably continue doing that for the month of April.”
The sisters said they intend to develop an online store and plan to expand Tepee offerings.
“We’re going to be introducing ice cream and opening up the chow wagon,” Dale said, noting that her brother previously operated the on-site food truck.
“And we’re going to do our big 70th anniversary party and customer appreciation day in July,” she said. “That is scheduled for July 25 — just celebrating with our customers and thanking them for keeping The Tepee in their minds and loving us. We’re planning on being here for another 20 or so years … and we feel honored to be The Tepee’s caretakers.”
For more information, find “The Tepee” on Facebook or call 607-264-3987.