True Grinnellian: Lori Vos of Loralei’s Giftshoppe


Ohana Sarvotham

Lori Voss (pictured above) has owned and operated Loralei’s Giftshoppe since its opening in 2003.

Conrad Dahm, Staff Writer

In one of the historic buildings that line Commercial Street sits Loralei’s Giftshoppe. While on the outside it may look like the other businesses on the street, one step inside will reveal a world of creative knick-knacks from collectible figurines to home decor. Lori Vos, owner and founder of Loralei’s, is an Iowa native with a deep love for the unique.

“I was born in Grinnell but lived 15 miles from here. I worked at the business across the street [now Village Decorating] since the 1970s,” said Vos. She said that she is inspired by how much the town of Grinnell has to offer despite its small size. This perspective has made her love everything colorful, which is one of the main attractions of her business. 

“We carry uniquely different things,” said Vos. “‘Unique, fun and funky’ is my tagline.” The wide variety of items in the store are all liked and chosen by Vos herself. She said that she has specific criteria for what items end up on the shelves. Usually, she prefers locally made items that have color and would not normally be found in a larger department store.

“I love color, texture and design,” said Vos. She said that this long-time love inspired the opening of Loralei’s Giftshoppe.

The story of Loralei’s Giftshoppe began around 18 years ago, when Vos, who also owns Village Decorating, needed more space to house the extra inventory.

We carry uniquely different things. ‘Unique, fun and funky’ is my tagline.

— Lori Vos

The building itself is on the Grinnell historic registry list, and it was originally built in the 1800s as a harness shop for horses. Vos started the renovation process after purchasing the building in 2002. The original windows were uncovered and the original ceiling was preserved. Many of the walls, however, were replaced. 

The business officially opened in March of 2003. Vos noted the variety of customers she has seen and spoken to since the store opened nearly 20 years ago, both from the town and from Grinnell College.

“I ask people what brings them to Grinnell, and [they say] this is a meeting place since it’s in between Des Moines and Iowa City,” Vos said. 

Although her primary demographic comes from Grinnell, Newton and Marshalltown, Vos said that plenty of college students and their families visit, particularly during events that bring families to town like sports games or parents’s weekends. In fact, Vos said that she has a fair amount of regulars who are college parents that visit the store whenever they are in Grinnell.

“It’s fun to have parents come and visit and become repeat customers,” Vos said. 

She said that one of her favorite stories is of a Grinnell College basketball player’s family who would consistently come to Loralei’s when visiting the student. Although this student has since graduated, Vos said that she hopes more students will continue to come, bring their families and check out what the store has to offer.

Vos noted that many items offered in the store are great dorm decorations or gifts for friends and family. As an added bonus, all gift wrapping is complimentary at Loralei’s. Vos encouraged students to engage with the town, saying,  “I hope that college students come downtown and visit the store. I hope they come here for a unique gift and visit other stores in the town.”