Souvenir markers make unique gifts
By Jerry Zgoda Star Tribune Staff Writer
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Sometimes inspiration can be summoned from the strangest places. From a 3-inch hole in her kitchen floor, a Minneapolis woman has created a growing business selling recreations of geographical markers you would find if you reached the summit of Mount McKinley or ventured to the South Pole.
Betty Risser, a Dayton's alterations fitter for the past 23 years, got the idea while remodeling her Northeast Minneapolis home six years ago. A friend, Minneapolis artist Stuart Klipper, was testing a Global Position System, which uses a satellite to pinpoint a person's position anywhere on Earth, and together they decided they would fill the hole with a marker bearing its latitude and longitude. And they borrowed a phrase Klipper once used on a Nicollet Avenue manhole cover he designed for a city arts project: "Know where you are, be where you're at."
Risser considered the phrase most appropriate. "Everybody who knows me knows I can't get there from here," she said.
She found a company that supplies markers to the survey industry, then began thinking, "somebody might be able to make some money from something like this."
Her one-woman company, Geographic Locations International, produces pewter paperweights, pins and zipper pulls from more than 40 locations, including summit markers for Mounts Washington, Whitney, McKinley, Everest and other destinations such as Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, through National Parks gift shops and from her home.
The company motto: GEOgifts for the outdoor enthusiast.
Every time REI opens a new store, it embeds into its floor one of Risser's markers with the store's engraved logo, city, elevation and opening dates. She also produced a Washington Monument marker that commemorates its recently surveyed heights: 554 feet, 5.9 inches. Pins cost $9, paperweights $29.
Risser said customers give her goods to climbing companions. She had mothers buy them for sons or daughters who have climbed a peak.
"Some people use them to commemorate a climb, some use them as a motivator," Risser said. "Sometimes people will see an item and tell themselves they'll buy it when they come down."
She hasn't produced any products for Minnesota sites, but is working on products for Split Rock Lighthouse and Artist's Point in Grand Marais. She also does work for customers who want custom-made markers for their gardens and homes.
Risser's company has yet to move the business out of her home or hire her first employee, even though she said her sales are increasing 90 percent every year. She said she is working to transform Geographic Locations from a hobby into a "serious" business.
"I have the vision for the company," Risser said. "I'm finding the resources to make it a reality." Risser isn't a mountain climber; those who are send her photographs or rubbings from the mountain markers. She has had ideas for other products before, but never thought of those ideas again until she discovered somebody else had put them into the marketplace. "Ideas are so fleeting," Risser said. "Having an idea isn't unique. Implementing one is."