Western Mall offers finer western items, welcoming atmosphereWritten by Jennifer Womack
Located in downtown Torrington, the store with a Western flair sells home interior items, jewelry, clothing, cards, artwork, western books, purses and bags. It’s easy to see the “second home” connection as one realizes the welcoming nature of Western Mall.
Marlisa and her husband Shawn, parents to seven-year-old twins, operate a farm and feedlot at Veteran, a community located near Torrington. The Engebretsens ranch south of Lost Springs in Converse County and were honored as a Centennial Ranch in 2008.
Western Mall had an interesting, and an incremental, beginning. While Marlisa was attending college, Mary painted her a jacket with an Indian chief on it. The positive response was so overwhelming that the duo, with the help of Chuck, began offering painted garments.
“He’s our not so silent, silent partner,” they laugh. Chuck goes to the Denver Merchandise Mart with Mary and Marlisa and helps select merchandise for the store. Joyce Warnke has been working in the store for about a year and is a close friend of the family. Mary helps in the store on an as needed basis as it is 90 miles from the home ranch.
In the early 1990s Mary, Marlisa and Chuck had a booth at the Wyoming High School Rodeo Finals followed by the National High School Rodeo Finals in Gillette. For five years they had a booth at the National Finals Rodeo trade show in Las Vegas, Nev. Their business began with painted garments but evolved to hand painted leather handbags, featuring rodeo events painted by Mary. The purses were desired by rodeo moms and contestants. The business expanded as new opportunities became available.
Prior to attending their first National High School Rodeo Finals, Marlisa saw a hat that featured a pen and ink sketch. She knew it was something, with the help of her mother’s artistic talents, they could offer. For several years at the National High School Rodeo Finals Mary had a constant stack of hats awaiting a custom paint job.
“Mom had WZestern art magazines,” says Marlisa. “People would ask, ‘What can she paint on the hat, purse and etc.?’ We’d say, ‘She can paint anything in that magazine.’”
“When they sold a black hat to a guy and said I would paint a Black Angus cow on it, they were in trouble,” laughs Mary.
In the mid-1990s Marlisa, who has a college degree in marketing, worked for the Prairie Herb Vinegar Company in Gillette as their marketing manager. She later married and moved to Torrington. Mary and Marlisa found themselves asking, “What are we going to do with the product left from our tradeshows?”
It was just before Christmas and Marlisa says a storefront became available in downtown Torrington. They rented it for three months with initial plans of selling their products in November and December and being open for any possible returns in January and then closing up shop. “At least that’s what we told our husbands,” they joke.
Nearly two decades after the family’s first steps into the business, the store continues to grow and diversify. Just over a year ago they moved to a corner location, doubling their window display space, and adding tuxedo rentals to their product line-up.
“Western fashions have made a comeback,” says Marlisa. “They’ve also become easier to mix and match with other styles. A lot of our merchandise can cross over either way. We need to be that way for where we are. We’re not in Jackson.”
Several people stop by the store while in town for the cattle sales at nearby Torrington Livestock Markets. “We’ve often joked that we need to run a taxi between here and the sale barn,” says Marlisa.
Mary says jewelry has also changed over the nearly two decades they’ve been in business. “Turquoise was popular in the 1970s,” she says noting that it then faded away in many areas.
“Now, it’s a staple,” says Marlisa.
“It’s not just silver and turquoise anymore,” adds Mary. “It has a more modern twist.” Those new styles along with traditional Indian jewelry can be found within the display cases at Western Mall. The store carries a wide variety of jewelry offering numerous pieces and different price ranges and styles.
Amidst the jewelry at Western Mall are pieces designed by Alice Marlatt, an artist who lives in Shoshoni. “We like to support local artists,” says Mary. A local photographer’s work is also on display as well as some artwork.
High-end Western clothes are also among the unique items the store has to offer. It’s a line that Marlisa says has earned the store customers from western Nebraska, surrounding Converse, Niobrara and Platte counties and beyond.
Mary says they order just a few of any one item. It’s an effort to sell their customers a unique product. They also put their best price on items from the beginning. “I always hate it when I buy something and then see it cheaper just a few weeks later,” says Mary. “We don’t have a lot of marked down sales.”
Certain fixtures have been implemented in the store to make it more welcoming to customers. A living room-like arrangement is located in the middle of the store, serving as a place to visit. Tired shoppers, or husbands waiting on their wives to finish shopping, appreciate the comfy couches. A bouncing horse that has been retired by the twins greets little cowpokes at the front door for a quick ride while mom shops.
With a popular store front in downtown Torrington, Western Mall’s tradeshow appearances are now limited to the Wyoming State Fair. Mary says they support the Fair in hopes that other businesses will follow suit and help grow that event.
Marlisa and Mary say they’ve learned a lot since they first opened the business. “When we first started we didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” laughs Mary. The duo could write a book on the “do’s and don’t’s” of displays, traffic flow and customer service.
“We were clever enough and quick enough to keep adding to it,” says Mary of their willingness to adjust over the past 20 years. “We also have a variety of product. We don’t have just one thing.”
Mary no longer paints items for the store, but she does create some of the jewelry. As the twins, Jadyn and Harrison, get older that might change. If she does start painting again, she says it will be on something more permanent than garments.
The family’s up and coming generation is equally excited about the future of Western Mall. Jadyn is the store’s junior salesperson and adds her creative touch to the arrangements of jewelry, gifts and apparel.
No one in the family will forget the day when, at age three, Harrison roped the store’s Christmas tree. “Only a few ornaments shattered,” recalls Mary.
With three generations of the family greeting customers, keeping things tidy and wrapping gifts this Christmas Season, it truly is a “second home” for both the family and their customers.