COLUMBUS — Pat Jindra and her husband were headed home Friday evening when they drove by the new Fort Western store near the intersection of 33rd Avenue and 23rd Street.
“And I told my husband, ‘We got to turn around,’” she recalled, which is how they ended up in the western wear store looking over its expansive boot collection.
“Just looking,” Jindra affirmed as much to herself as to her husband who was eyeing a pair of white boots.
The boot collection spans three walls, just one piece of the 11,000-square-foot retail store’s offerings that includes not just cowboy hats and saddles, but also work wear and everyday clothes.
“I feel like we’re trendy enough to stay with both my generation and the one before it,” said Store Manager Kristin Wolfarth, a recent business graduate from Southeast Community College.
But she adds that “the Fort” — as those inside the business call it — hasn’t had to mix in too much non-western clothing to stay hip.
“Country is so much cooler now than when I was showing horses in 4-H,” Wolfarth said.
The Columbus store is the third location for the Wolfarth’s family business. It joins a store in Lincoln and the original in Nebraska City.
Fort Western also offers home shopping opportunities through its catalogue and website.
Wolfarth’s father Steve is the retailer’s general manager.
The goal was to open the Columbus location on Black Friday, but construction delays put the store a week behind schedule. The Fort Western team worked at breakneck pace to put a store together in 43 days after they had to gut the old Walgreens building.
Then, there was building the fort’s 20-employee retail support team. Wolfarth said many of the cashiers were learning to work the register on opening day. About 100 people were waiting for them to unlock the door that morning, she said.
Wolfarth enlisted former Schweser’s Manager Sara Schmidt to lead the team alongside her.
Schmidt said having a new retail outlet in Columbus was exciting and a sign Columbus is heading in a positive direction.
Sandie Fischer, Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s membership and retail developer, said she’s seen a spike in retail interest, citing new retailers Cato and Petsense, both of which opened earlier this year.
“Columbus has stayed very stable,” she said. “Unemployment has been very stable, the economy has been very stable. I think those are just signs of a community that’s very strong and they see an opportunity here.”
Moving forward, Fischer said the community’s looking for another large retailer like Target. She also sees a need for a men’s and children’s clothing store, as well as a vendor for home bedding. Fischer adds that restaurants are always welcome.
Fort Western is located at 3315 21st St. The store is open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.