The Gingerbread House is iconic to Pine-Strawberry.
If you are a true local, you have gotten a scoop of ice cream from the quaint shop and toured the many rooms, finding reminders of times gone by in the eclectic collection of pottery, glassware and memorabilia amassed in this original homestead cabin.
While you can still get ice cream through the newly installed to-go window, the shop is closed for now because of the pandemic and aging owners, said the owner’s son Phillip Hata.
Owners Shirley and Dennis Vickers came to Payson from California in a motor home. “We were just gonna tour the world,” she said. The motor home broke down in Payson and changed the couple’s trajectory. They discovered a home in Strawberry.
“We loved it, it had an outside balcony,” the 86-year-old reminisced. That was in 1988. A year later they bought the old Lazear cabin on Highway 87 in Pine and started the Gingerbread House.
What started as an antique shop developed over the years, Shirley explains while sitting in the cozy shop.
Originally from New Zealand, Shirley led a full life even before coming to P-S. She was recognized as an “adopted princess of the Maori” and recognized by the Governor General of New Zealand for keeping Maori culture alive in 1963.
She traveled extensively and worked her way as a seamstress and clothing designer to the United States, landing in San Diego. She found a book on repairing pottery and glassware, and her career changed again.
Shirley said she then found a class and spent a year perfecting pottery and glasswear repairs, and for almost 30 years she has been in the back of the Gingerbread House repairing treasures.
A recent letter states, “You’ve changed a bit of trash into a masterpiece, thank you.”
She traveled all over the United States for about 20 years, selling antiques and teaching others how to take a broken bit of collectible and make it look like new.
She has been known to find an item for $5 to $15, clean it up, perhaps make a repair, do some research and sell that piece for $1,000 or more. Her years in the business gives her a knack for knowing what is valuable.
In the early ’90s the couple were in the Verde Valley, and Dennis saw an old-fashioned soda fountain.
“I called him Mr. Fix it. He could build anything, fix anything,” Shirley said of her husband. He came home and added an old-fashioned soda fountain to the Gingerbread House, she said.
“We got out of debt by dipping ice cream,” Shirley laughed. Thus the soda fountain became a part of the P-S experience.
Lazear family descendants stopped by just two weeks ago to see the old homestead. They enjoyed ice cream and a friendly visit reminiscing with Shirley.
Many P-S kids got their first job here, Shirley said.
That includes my own daughter Kelsey.
My daughter was 8 when we were visiting the shop. In those days there was a fish pond that captivated the kids, rooms filled with treasures and ice cream. Kelsey asked me to buy her a phone, a Garfield phone whose eyes opened when the phone rang. I did not see a need for this small child to have a phone (this was land-line days, you’ll have to look that up if you don’t understand), so I said no.
She did not argue, she went about putting it back, or so I thought. Shirley found me moments later.
“I need an 8-year-old working here like I need a hole in my head,” she exclaimed, “but how can I say no when a child wants to work to earn something.” Kelsey can be determined and is still very capable of figuring out how to get what she wants. Shirley has always had a soft spot for the kids. They made a deal, and after working three shifts she earned her phone.
I hope for all P-S residents and guests that you have a memory of the delightful Gingerbread House, and I hope this added to your collection. They will serve ice cream and sodas over Labor Day weekend. Go make a memory with your loved ones.