By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily News
RUDYARD - An era ended in Rudyard on Oct. 2. - a sign of the times, some say - when a mainstay business closed its doors for the last time.
J & J Grocery, known for decades on the Hi-Line as Sanvik & Sons and later as Sanvik Bros., sits behind locked doors, a for-sale sign in the window, shelves nearly empty.
The store wasn't like that when owners Jack and Jane Rhodes moved to Rudyard in 1975.
"It was, wow, what a store," Jane Rhodes said, describing groceries, toys, furniture, hardware and appliances filling the floor and shelves of Sanviks.
"I wish we could have done more to keep it here," she said.
She said business dropped off over the years, but what made up their minds to close the store was being able to have some free time, Jane said.
She is a teacher at J-I High School in Joplin and Jack is general manager of Jim Taylor Motors in Fort Benton. Jane said that with their other jobs, managing the grocery had become difficult. She was spending mornings, evenings, weekends, vacations and summers at J & J Grocery, keeping the books and taking care of the business.
Bob Wehr of Rudyard said the closing of the store is the loss of a grand tradition.
"At one time it was one of the biggest stores on the Hi-Line," he said, "It's a real sad time for the town of Rudyard to lose the grocery store. That's one of the mainstays of a town."
Wehr said the local Cenex started stocking some grocery items, including bread and milk, so people won't have to leave town for everything.
"It's still not the same thing," he added.
The grocery store also was a gathering place, including 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. coffee clubs meeting daily.
"It was a nice open area. It held a lot of people. It will definitely be missed," he said.
Wehr knows about operating a business in small-town Montana. In 1960 he became the third generation to operate Wehr Auto Supply in Rudyard. He put the business up for sale this summer, saying he is ready to retire, but hasn't had any offers.
He's making a fair living, Wehr said, but his store is bought and paid for so expenses are lower. If he had more expenses, it wouldn't be so easy, he added.
With less money in the economy as land is put in the Conservation Reserve Program, drought cutting incomes and people moving away, business isn't what it used to be. People also travel to shop instead of staying home, he said.
"Everybody's guilty of that," he added.
Bev Groseclose of Hingham, who started working for McNair Furniture in Rudyard this summer, said the few businesses still operating in Rudyard are doing well.
"This place is extremely busy," she said.
But, she said, seeing the grocery store go is sad.
"My parents used to come here to buy appliances," she said.
Betty Strissel's grandfather, Ole Sanvik, bought the existing store about 1928 and turned it into a major store in the area. Strissel said it brought people from all along the Hi-Line to buy appliances, groceries, propane, drygoods and hardware, and to use the coin-operated laundry.
"They had about everything," she said, adding that the store even had a service department for the appliances it sold.
When Ole retired, Betty Strissel's father, Selmer Sanvik, took over Sanvik and Sons. Later, Robert Sanvik joined the operation and it became Sanvik Bros.
Betty's husband, Bill Strissel, managed the grocery side of the store until the Rhodeses bought the store in 1983. Betty Strissel said Robert Sanvik's son Greg Sanvik managed the hardware side of the store, but left the business a few years later and it switched to a straight grocery store.
Jane Rhodes said she regrets closing the store because of what that does to the people in Rudyard.
"The hardest thing is feeling we might have let them down," she said.
Mary Hutchinson, who lives north of Hingham, said the Rhodes didn't let anyone down.
"I think Jack and Jane have done a great job of trying to keep it open," she said, adding that they have made sacrifices in their lives and to their incomes to keep the store open.
"Both her and Jack have gone beyond what they needed to do," she said.
Jane said the Rhodeses had been thinking about closing the store for about six months. Then a new addition brought extra incentive for the Rhodeses to leave town more often.
Their son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Kristie Rhodes of Helena, had a baby girl on Sept. 25. Kate Elizabeth Rhodes is Jack and Jane's first grandchild.
"So we would love to spend time with that precious little thing," she said.
Their daughter Anne Rhodes, a lawyer in Seattle, has just passed the bar exam in Colorado, and Jack and Jane also want to be able to help her move, Jane said. Operating the store would have prevented that.
"It's such a huge headache with all this to do. I used to say it was worse than having kids," she added.
She said she and Jack are working to get everything cleared out of the store. She will donate any nonperishable items left at the end to a food bank, she said.
The people in Rudyard have been wonderful, she added. They have shared their sorrow about the closure, even sending cards to the Rhodeses, and several people have offered to help clear the building of fixtures and leftover products.
Someone could buy and re-open the store. Jane said she thinks it could be a workable business, as long as the owner kept the expenses down. The owner would probably have to work full time, as Jack did when they first bought the store, she said.
"It's not going to be a huge business," she added.
She said that at this point, the Rhodeses don't have an asking price.
"We would probably entertain just about anything if someone made an offer. We have no price set in stone," she said.
Jane said she hopes someone will step forward and restore the grocery, like in 2002 when Willard "Gus" and Ophelia Gustafson reopened the Hi-Line Theatre Gus' father had opened in 1949.
"I won't hold my breath," she said.