Bears’ Choice

Jason Rollene, the store manager of Jensen’s Jewelers in Pocatello, Idaho, has always been a strong supporter of the local zoo with its emphasis on exhibits of animals indigenous to the northern states. From the prairie dogs that burrow in the ground to the cougars that prowl the mountainous regions of Idaho and surrounding states, all the animals on exhibit at the Pocatello Zoo were either placed there because of injuries or were born in captivity.

As an active member of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, Rollene became aware of opportunities to help build a habitat and interpretative center for grizzly bear several years ago. Since 2007, the Pocatello store (Jensen’s Jewelers has 14 stores) has held annual events to help raise the estimated $1 million needed to get the three-quarter-acre center built. Construction of the facility is currently underway with the halfway completion mark set for spring next year.

The zoo events have become a lucrative annual promotion for Rollene and his staff. Every summer Rollene is given a $5,000 budget to organize and execute a zoo event from the company’s CEO Tony Prater. Rollene partners with local radio and TV stations to get the word out. In the final week before the event local FM station Star 98.5 allows Rollene to plug the store event each day during the station’s morning program. And, the local rock radio station does live remotes from the store on the day of the event.

Rollene also barters and trades most if not all of the food and beverage outlays to stay within the budget.

Zoo event store photo.

In the first year, Rollene was pleased with the turnout of 200 people. In 2008, the number of participants increased to 250-300 people. And, in July roughly 350-400 people showed up. “Each year it keeps getting better,” says Rollene. “We have a DJ playing music, catered food and beverages and store activities during the event. People really seem to enjoy themselves.”

Money is raised for the zoo with 10% of each sale made on the day of the event going to the bear exhibit. Rollene also holds a live auction. “This year we auctioned off an Acutron watch and a three-stone anniversary ring,” says Rollene. “With the proceeds from the sales and the live auction money we raised about $5,000 this year.”

Not all customers can time jewelry gift-giving purchases with the summer zoo event. But, they can certainly hold off on repair work until the annual event rolls around. “A lot of the sales we get on the day of the event are from repair work,” says Rollene. “Customers pre-pay the work to make sure proceeds from the repair job are part of the annual drive to raise money for the bear exhibit.”

As a result, repair work has picked up quite a bit for the Pocatello store. But there are some customers who have the luxury of waiting on a jewelry purchase to happen the day of the store’s zoo event.

“This year a customer wanted to upgrade the white diamond center stone from her ring to a blue diamond,” says Rollene. “She ended up buying a three-quarter-carat blue diamond that retailed for $4,000, which brought in $400 for the zoo. She made it a point to tell us that she waited specifically for the zoo event.”

As the bear habitat and interpretative center takes shape, Rollene estimates the exhibit will be open to the public in late 2011. “It’s going to be really something,” says Rollene. “This habitat and interpretative center is modeled after the animal exhibits in West Yellowstone, Montana, where animals are in a large, open environment that is much like their natural habitat.”

This grizzly bear exhibit will actually have a stream that’s fed with live trout so bears can hunt fish much like in the wild. It will also have tunnels underneath the river portion of the exhibit so zoo goers can see the large mammals hunt from different angles. And, the exhibit will take advantage of the local topography by incorporating a mountainside into the backdrop of the exhibit.

Bear_Drawing_Revised.JPG

Eventually Rollene and his staff, along with other zoo supporters, will hit the $1 million mark for the bear exhibit. But Rollene will continue to support not just ongoing operational expenses for the bear habitat and interpretative center but also other animal exhibits that are part of the Pocatello Zoo’s Capital Campaign to raise $15-20 million as part of its 15-year Master Plan projects. The habitat and interpretative center for grizzly bear is one of the first animal exhibits to benefit from this campaign.

Sadly, one of the zoo’s longest inhabitants, Charlie, a grizzly from Alaska donated to the zoo in 1978, died recently. Charlie, 34, lived a long and healthy life for a bear. Stripes (donated to the zoo in 1980) and Charlie helped anchor the Pocatello Zoo as a well-known grizzly exhibit in the southeast portion of the state.