The Golden Pineapple has been a staple in the Great Falls Village Center since it opened more than two decades ago. Owner Barbara Zimnoch tries to ensure that, in keeping with the grand Southern tradition of welcoming, which the pineapple symbolizes, her store has something to offer everyone who stops by.
“I pick things that I like. Things that I enjoy. It’s just the best part of this. What better way to go shopping and have an excuse to do it?” said Zimnoch of her petite gift shop.
When The Golden Pineapple opened in October 1979, the Village Center was still in its infancy, and real estate prices in Great Falls were still reasonable. “Great Falls didn’t have anything back then. It didn’t even have a shopping center. This was a field where they shot off the fireworks,” Zimnoch recalls.
She was inspired to open a gift shop by a friend and hasn’t looked back since, even though it’s often meant long days at the store and the occasional frustration. “It took a while to get established, about a little over a year. All of the buildings weren’t occupied that first year,” said Zimnoch.
Even though occupancy is now high at the Village Center, The Golden Pineapple has been around long enough to bear witness to the demise of several neighboring businesses in the plaza.
THE TINY GIFT SHOP, according to the owner, owes its success to the diversity of customers and the corresponding diversity of the inventory. “It’s because I live in Great Falls. I don’t assign the value that everyone who lives here lives in a big grandiose house and is going to come in and buy wildly expensive things. There are people of all types here, of all incomes, so we reflect that,” Zimnoch said.
Joanne Gehrke has been a loyal Golden Pineapple customer since the store opened. “I started going in because I found a very good selection of gifts in all price ranges. If I need something elegant, she will have it. And if I need something simple, like a Beanie Baby, she’s going to have it, too,” said Gehrke.
“One of the things I like about [Zimnoch] is that she doesn’t overprice things. The Beanie Babies, when those were all the rage, she didn’t raise the price of them. She’s a lady of good taste and integrity,” said Gehrke.
Zimnoch's people skills may have as much to do with her success as do her inventory of collectibles and gifts. She’s extremely personable and takes a keen interest in the lives of her customers. “The amazing part of this business has been that people came in with their babies. Now those babies are all grown up and walking in with babies of their own. That’s just amazing to me,” said Zimnoch.
Children are welcomed into the store, despite the numerous breakable items that line the walls and sit precariously on the tables that crowd the store. There’s a wide selection of stuffed toys that Zimnoch purposefully keeps on hand for children. Beanie Babies have been a favorite of Zimnoch because they are an inexpensive item that children can purchase with their allowance or baby-sitting money, or that adults can use to reward good behavior.
“The time she’s been here is an amazing accomplishment. It’s really something to last that long. Barbara has given me so many pointers. She’s a very observant person, and she notices when things need to be done,” said Helene Teel, who manages the center where The Golden Pineapple is located.
“This is a close-knit community where people offer ongoing support to one another,” Teel said.
“I just enjoy the customers, the friendships that I’ve developed,” said Zimnoch.
“I appreciate her taste and her ability to help me select gifts. If it’s for a handicapped person, she’ll come up with something. She has an ability to find the right gift for people. Her store is unique in that,” said Gehrke.
RESIDENTS OCCASIONALLY WALK into The Golden Pineapple professing amazement that the store is there. “I have people come in all the time saying they’ve lived here for six years and had no idea these shops were here,” said Zimnoch.
To counter the lack of a physical presence, Zimnoch actively participates in the community events sponsored by the Village Center. “We do the Easter Egg hunt, and we’re here for Halloween,” said Zimnoch.
Her one regret is that the store isn’t larger. She’s reluctant to move after all these years of establishing herself in the hideaway location. “If I had more space, I could put in larger, furniture type items. I like those, and I know my customers do, but they would be tripping over them if we had that in here,” said Zimnoch.
Size apparently doesn’t matter to her loyal customers. The range of items available at The Golden Pineapple keeps even daily shoppers satisfied. Gehrke said, “In looking around my house, I see in every room I have something that I’ve purchased there.”