Vision Quest has been a fixture of the downtown Merritt business community for more than a decade. From the corner storefront at 2001 Quilchena Ave. Jeanine Gustafson provides both the services of an optician and a wide selection of gifts, art and jewelry.

Born and raised in the Lower Mainland, a native of White Rock, Gustafson lived in Kelowna for many years before making the move to Merritt.

“I was an optician in Kelowna when we lived there, and at the two different places I worked, about 30% of our prescriptions came from Merritt,” explained Gustafson.

“Which showed me that they needed somewhere to purchase their glasses. So, I knew that Merritt needed another optical place, and I decided to open one.”

Even now, Vision Quest is the only place open on Saturdays that can repair your glasses after any early weekend ‘oops’ moments.

Gustafson was looking for a fresh start when she left the Okanagan’s largest city for the Nicola Valley, a new home for her children and herself. With her experience as an optician, she was happy to establish herself in the community, but her offerings soon expanded to include more than just eyewear.

“We kind of added a bunch of other things to it,” said Gustafson.

“I make jewelry, so I started selling that in here. And then we brought in a bunch of different native artists. To begin with, they were all native people who made them, and they all still have stuff in here.”

Over the past twelve years, more and more has been added to the shop, making it one of the most unique and varied stores in town.

Now, there are 41 different vendors with wares on display. Most are from Merritt, although some are from Logan Lake and a few come from as far as Lytton, where their homes were thankfully spared after the devastating Lytton Creek fire tore through the Village.

Over the years, Vision Quest has become well known for its legendary Christmas displays, which Gustafson puts up herself every year as the holiday season gets underway.

“Everyone noticed I was a little ridiculous when it came to Christmas and had way too much stuff in here, so Marguerite gave me her Christmas stuff,” said Gustafson.

Marguerite was the former bylaw officer for the City of Merritt, of would set up Christmas displays around town in locations such as City Hall, the Civic Centre, the Aquatic Centre, and various storefronts.

“She decided that she was too old to keep putting it up by herself, it was too much work,” said Gustafson, who spends roughly nine days putting the displays up.

“So, she decided that I was the only one crazy enough to do it, that was what she told me, so she gave it all to me, and it’s fun. When I was a kid we lived in White Rock, and we used to go to Vancouver to see the Woodwards Christmas windows. I have Merritt’s version… I’ve tried to get buildings for all the stores downtown, the real estate offices even gave me little tiny signs to put up.”

Those interested in the paranormal may want to drop in when the holiday decorations are up, as Gustafson said Vision Quest is home to a ghost who is particularly active around Christmastime.

“It’s a woman and she’s really friendly, and she likes pretty things,” said Gustafson.

Sometimes the ghost will pick things up and let them hover, move things or turn on music boxes and snow globes.

Gustafson isn’t sure who the ghost is, or where she came from, but in her estimation her building is more than a century old, leaving plenty of opportunities for a spirit to take up residence.

Originally the site of a hotel which burned down, and at one point in time featuring a shooting range in the basement, the building has also been home to a ladies clothing store, a shoe store, pet store, computer and TV shop, a corner store, as well as a hair salon and tanning booth.

Gustafson’s favourite items available for sale are the indigenous design sunglasses, dreamcatchers, drums, beadwork and the cedar bark bracelets and roses. Of course, there’s also the friendly resident store cat, Rex, who is nearly everybody’s favourite and welcomes customer attention.

Vision Quest’s store mascot, Rex.