By Nick Worth
Anyone who has traveled Interstate 40 between Holbrook and Winslow has seen the signs for the Jackrabbit Trading Post. A stop at the store is a step back into the days of old Route 66. Tony and Cindy Jaquez are the proud owners of the Jackrabbit. The business has been in Cindy’s family for three generations.
Located about four miles west of Joseph City, the trading post was built in 1949 by Jim Taylor. It was leased to someone else to run throughout the 1950s.
Cindy’s grandfather, Glenn Blansett, was an Arizona State Senator, and also built the Pacific Courts Hotel and Restaurant in Joseph City. He sold those enterprises and leased the Jackrabbit store in 1961.
As a state senator, he was also instrumental in getting the I-40 exit put in at the location of the store.
In 1969, Phil and Pat Blansett, Cindy’s parents, bought the business and ran it until Tony and Cindy bought it in 1995.
It was Phil Blansett who came up with the marketing idea that continues to define Jackrabbit to this day. He began handing out signs to customers who would stop in. The bright yellow signs featured the black Jackrabbit logo on the left side and “Mi.” on the right, with a blank space in between.
When he gave out a sign, Phil instructed his customers to go straight home and record their mileage in the blank space, and then hang it up. The idea was to have signs leading the way to Jackrabbit. That is the reason for the big sign at the store featuring the Jackrabbit logo and the words “Here It Is!”
The mileage signs are still available at the store, but they’re no longer free.
“I sell them for $29.95,” said Tony. He said the signs are still popular in some circles. “We sell a few of them.”
In addition to the signs, the Jackrabbit is famous for the large jackrabbit statue upon which tourists can pose to have their picture taken. The history of the original jackrabbit statue is a little cloudy.
Taylor had the original statue in a convertible while driving it to his store in 1949.
“He noticed people kept taking pictures of it and asking, ‘Where is it going? Where is it going?,’ so he started saying ‘It’s going to Jackrabbit, Arizona,’” Cindy said. “And that’s how the store got its name.”
“The original Jackrabbit had fur on it,” said Cindy. She said a customer had sent an old photo from sometime in the 1950s which showed the statue covered in artificial fur. Next to it was a surprise.
“There was also a bronc,” Cindy said, showing the statue of a horse standing next to the jackrabbit statue. “I guess they both also had saddles,” she added.
Cindy and Tony don’t know what happened to the statue of the horse. Over the years, though, the jackrabbit statue lost its covering of “fur” and was eventually painted black. It also suffered from the ravages of time, weather and traffic at the store.
“Cars backed into it and it was getting damaged,” said Cindy. She said one Sunday all the kids were home sick with chicken pox and couldn’t go to church, so the Episcopal minister came out to the house to visit. When he left, he backed into the Jackrabbit.
“My mom said that was the day the jackrabbit got baptized,” said Cindy.
One day in 1985 or ’86, a truck stopped at the store. It was hauling a fiberglass replica of a Budweiser Clydesdale. Phil asked the driver about his cargo and together they looked up the company’s name. Phil contacted the company and they sent a catalog in which he was able to find the jackrabbit that presently stands outside the store.
The store has long been a landmark along Route 66 and then I-40, and it has drawn a few celebrities through its doors. The Coasters, a famous singing group from the 1950s and ‘60s, has stopped off at Jackrabbit on two occasions and John Lassiter, director of the Pixar movie Cars, also stopped in as part of his research for the film, accompanied by Route 66 author Michael Wallis.
The results of his visit can be seen in the movie, where Lizzie’s gift shop sports a big yellow billboard with the outline of a Model T and the words, “Here It Is!”
“That movie helped our business a lot,” said Tony.
Other famous visitors have included the singing duo Hall and Oates, country singer Merle Haggard and actor James Woods, to name a few.
The jackrabbit is also famous outside the state and the country.
“Foreign tourists are our main business,” said Tony. “Harley tours are big, as well.”
“It’s really big with foreign visitors,” Cindy agreed. “We get a lot of Australians during the summer months. I guess because that’s when it’s winter down there and they’re getting out of the cold.”
Cindy’s mother started keeping a guest book about the time Tony and her daughter bought the store. A glance through the pages shows signatures and comments from guests hailing from all parts of the world. Some of the countries represented are Canada, Spain, England, Scotland, Ireland, Mexico, Japan, Germany, China, Austria, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Norway, Brazil and Russia.
Tony said one Japanese couple stop in each year on a buying trip.
“They go to all the stores along Route 66 where you can only buy certain souvenirs, like our ‘Here It Is!’ items. Then they take the stuff back to Japan and sell it,” he said.
The store is equally popular at home in the U.S.
“We’ve had visitors from all the states,” said Cindy, leafing through the 18 years of entries in the guest book.
She said that she and Tony often receive old photos or other mementos from guests who discover a piece of the store’s history. One room in the shop has walls covered with everything from sheet music (The Jackrabbit Rag) to toys from the Cars movie showing the “Here It Is!” sign.
There is one thing Tony is missing, though. He’s still on the lookout for an original “Jackrabbit, Arizona” bumper sticker.
“They weren’t even really a bumper sticker,” he laughed. “They were made out of cardboard and they punched holes in them and tied them onto the car’s bumper.
“I’d love to find one of those old paper ones,” Tony said, but he admits the chances of doing so are slim.
Jackrabbit Trading Post is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 or 6 p.m., depending on the season. On Sundays, the store opens from 12 noon until 6 p.m.
It’s easy to find. You can’t miss it. Just look for the big yellow sign that says “Here It Is!”
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By Nick Worth