The closing of Verkamp's in September may have marked the end of an era, but today it reopens as an affirmation of the kind of community spirit embodied by the family and others over the past century.
"Nowhere in the park do we interpret the community," said Jennie Albrinck, who is one of the leading planners for the exhibit designed to fill that void. "We want to share with visitors that we are a community."
As the first visitor center on the Rim, the Verkamps building will be staffed with uniformed rangers daily from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Grand Canyon Association will operate a bookstore in the space as well.
The interpretive staff has been developing the exhibit since last spring, when the Park Service decided to withdraw its call for bids to operate the 100-year-old business on the Rim and rethink uses for the building. Several entities had submitted bids but the Verkamps were not among them.
It seemed fitting that the space that housed one of the first and most influential families in the park would be used to tell their story and the stories of those who make this place their home.
"Kolb Studio is specific to the brothers. This is the opportunity to tell the bigger story," said Albrinck.
The family has provided some artifacts and home movies. The Park Service bought and retains the famous Louis Akin painting on site. The meteorite was donated to Lowell Observatory.
"We tried to preserve as much of the historic fabric as we could," said GCA Retail Manager Patty Brookins.
"It's a historic structure so we wanted to be respectful," said Albrinck.
They plan to convert the upstairs space into living and working quarters for artists in residence. There will be an official grand opening in January, in conjunction with the park's 90th birthday.
"We are so excited to finally have a visitor center on the Rim," said park Chief of Interpretation Judy Bryan. "We'll be able to reach so many more visitors."
They have been planning this since early last year when the Park Service decided not to bid a contract for another concessioner to take the space.
Ranger David Smith will oversee the visitor center, while Lynn Szelock will manage the bookstore.
Kim Bucheit did the graphic design and historian Mike Anderson provided the research. They consulted with the family and were able to obtain home movies and family belongings. Northern Arizona Signs of Flagstaff and Design to Print of St. George, Utah, did the print work.
"It's a great display and public representation of us as partners," said Brookins.
Three Verkamp brothers John, Leo and Oscar came to Flagstaff from Cincinnati, Ohio, and joined their fortunes with five Babbitt brothers who were neighbors of theirs back in Ohio. In 1905, John started a store of his own in a tent on 2.5 acres, under a permit from the Forest Service manager of the Grand Canyon Forest and Game Preserve then the managing agency. In January of 1906, he moved to the current building.
The Verkamp's store was part of a wave of early 20th century development on the South Rim that included El Tovar and Hopi House.
In the store's early years, John Verkamp hired managers to run things while he pursued other business interests throughout the county.
In 1936, with his other interests lost to the Great Depression, he and his wife Catherine moved to the store, where it became their home and main livelihood.
His son, John Jr., took over in 1945, and Michael, representing the third generation to live in the store, managed it for 23 years starting in the mid-70s. Through all of those years, the Verkamp name became woven into the park's history as well.