What’s going on at “the store where you never know what to expect?” They’re commemorating partnerships, old and new. Photos by Alisia Dawn Photography
It all began in 1980, 37 years ago when Rita Rayhill moved to Montana after graduating from University of Colorado with a degree in environmental conservation. But, her real dream was to open a small boutique in a resort town. Rita had visited Montana several times in previous years, worked at her sister’s restaurant in Kalispell and realized Montana was where she wanted to land. She and her then husband, Allen Clark, loved Antiques and anything Vintage. So her dream came true when they opened Ramblin Rose in 1980 in one of the original grocery stores in a residential area in Whitefish. In 1982, they had an opportunity to buy the building at 215 Central Avenue which where Sappari is still located today. Along with two other couples, they remodeled the store, which became the home for three stores: Northwind T-Shirts, Lotions and Potions, and Ramblin Rose.
In 1987, Rita felt a need to change it up a bit. She quit selling vintage items and clothing and began offering clothing that was made from natural fibers, and jewelry from around the world. With this new change, came a name change to Sappari. The name was inspired while her sister took a Japanese cooking course. Roxanne (Rita’s sister)
told her that in class, vegetables needed to be Sappari for tempura. Sappari means fresh, new and crisp. Rita loved the word; it’s meaning and that it sounded exotic, and it left the door wide open for her to sell whatever she was inspired by.
13 years went by, she had two daughters and then found it was time for another change. With her interest in owning and remodeling homes she found she was increasingly drawn to home decor and what made a house a home. She also felt there
was a niche in the valley to expand jewelry and fashion accessories.
At a fateful meeting, when their youngest daughters were at their first coed Junior High School dance, Rita made a proposal to Connie Kelsay that would change both their lives. Would Connie want to become a partner and help expand the store’s offerings into a Montana lifestyle store? Of course she said, “Yes”. Connie was a transplant from Texas, grew up in Calgary, Alberta and had been vacationing with her family in Whitefish since the early 70’s. After attending Alberta College of Art and Washington State University in graphic design, she decided a move to small town Montana was what her soul needed. That’s where she met her partner, and then husband, Dan Hendrick. Their two daughters were the same age as Rita’s, were friends at school and it all was pretty serendipitous. Connie had just finished a degree in business when Rita’s offer came and was in the dream stage of wanting to open a small store, and possibly bring in antique furniture.
They signed some papers, hit the markets hard, bought more of the building space, doubling the floor space and inventory and grew with new customers, many who have become dear friends over the years.
406 Woman Vol. 10 No. 2