Wheeler Jewelry, the longest continually running business in Kalispell located in the city’s oldest commercial brick building, is closing its doors and holding a going-out-of-business sale.
Lisa Anderson, who has owned the store on Main Street since 1979, is retiring to spend more time with her grandchildren and husband, deal with health ailments and simply enjoy free time that has eluded her over decades of thoroughly committed business ownership.
The jewelry store at 139 S. Main St. launched its sale on Nov. 15 and will run it through the end of the year, covering the gift-buying holiday season.
Anderson, who also owns the building, said she welcomes offers from buyers interested in continuing a jewelry store or opening a different business. But she is fully embracing retirement, even if it’s bittersweet to leave the enterprise she has nurtured for four decades.
“I love it,” she said of Wheeler. “But this gives me a chance to do life again.”
W.C. Whipps constructed the building in 1891 to house his First National Bank, which he founded in Demersville before moving it to Kalispell. At the time, all commercial buildings in Kalispell were wood structures.
The bank survived the financial panic of 1893 and remained in the building until 1905, when it moved to another location. To this day, a fading First National Bank painted sign is visible on the back of the building, while inside Wheeler still uses the original 1891 Hall’s Safe and Lock bank safe.
In 1908, Dallas Stocking opened a jewelry store there called D.A. Stocking Jewelry. Tom Bogart and James Hollensteiner purchased the building in 1911 and rented it to one of Stockings’ employees, Harry Gayhart, to run a jewelry store. Gayhart Jewelry would later become Wheeler Jewelry after Frank and Jane Wheeler purchased it.
Anderson’s first husband was part of the Wheeler family, and the two assumed ownership in 1979, although Anderson had been in the jewelry business for years before that. Anderson initially did bookkeeping, handwriting ledger entries long before the store acquired a computerized system. It wasn’t until someone suggested she would do well on the floor that she considered a new role.
Anderson, who took over the business by herself in the mid-1980s, said there was a steep learning curve full of trial and error in learning the jewelry business from the ground up. But she researched extensively and traveled widely to trade shows, continually expanding her jewelry expertise and business acumen.
That global appeal, and the ways in which the industry introduced her to different cultures, continually intrigued Anderson.
“I always worked on the premise that I wanted to bring the world to Kalispell,” she said. “It’s a worldwide business.”
Anderson’s experiences overseas also informed her business philosophies and ethics. For example, she doesn’t carry any items derived from places such as Myanmar that perpetuate human-rights violations.
“I want to know where I’m buying from, that they’re taking care of the miners, their families, their kids,” she said. “That’s always been important to me.”
The store’s sale features a wide selection of items, with prices ranging from $28 to $30,000, including estate pieces, diamonds and “rare sapphires discovered during the gold rush days that are only found in Montana,” according to the store’s description.
Among the sapphires is the Yogo, a “natural, unheated, precious” gemstone that the store calls more rare than diamonds, “prized for its color, clarity and beauty,” and found only in Yogo Gulch, Montana.
The store also carries brand-name designers such as Peter James, Wolf, Parle, Galatea, Imperial, Bering, Venetti, Bellari and Mark Schneider.
Wheeler Jewelry has been active in its community, supporting a number of local causes, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which has its local office upstairs. Anderson has donated a portion of the organization’s rent for 40 years.
Anderson is also passionate about the Tamarack Grief Resource Center, which helps children who have lost parents or other loved ones. Anderson is a volunteer there.
“Loss often forces kids to grow up quickly and lose pieces of their childhoods,” she said. “When the kids go camping, they get to be kids.”
Most of all, Anderson will miss the customers, both the long-term relationships and the daily camaraderie.
“I’ve made lifelong friends through my business,” she said. “I mean close friends.”
Anderson recalls a story from 1975, before she took over ownership, when she was working the floor and a disheveled rancher walked in wearing mud-covered rubber duck boots. He ended up buying a $775 sapphire ring, her biggest sale to date and a sizable haul at that time.
Anderson likes to share that story and its lessons with her staff, as she believes it illuminates a major reason the store has remained successful for decades.
“Never judge a book by its cover,” Anderson said. “Every person is the same that walks through that front door. I think we’ve done a really good job of creating an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.”
Anderson, whose daughter is an attorney in Kalispell, hopes to set example for other women to reach their goals, whether in business or other life pursuits.
“It is not always easy but it is absolutely possible,” Anderson said. “I really want women to know they can do anything they set their sights on and enjoy their life.”