Forty years ago, two sisters — Karen Ganz and Darlene Feser — bought the empty CILCO building on the square in Washington to open a boutique. That decision began a journey that has spanned generations.
Today the business, Sentimental Journey, is owned and operated by one of their daughters, Kris Hasten of Washington, who initially partnered with her sister, Shelly Hines. Hasten’s two daughters, Katelyn Arnold and Lauren Joop, plan to carry on the family legacy.
They are marking the 40th anniversary of the store with a celebration on April 2 with prizes, raffles and refreshments. Earlier this year, they were named the 2022 Outstanding Business by the Washington Chamber of Commerce. In January and February, they completed a major remodel – with marching orders from customers to keep the creaks in the floor, if at all possible.
The business hit those milestones despite obstacles. They have survived economic downturns, a devastating tornado and a pandemic. As Hasten said, “We’ve been through it.”
Their success is the result of hard work, close family ties and a commitment to community.
It all began April, 1982, when Ganz and Feser, both of Washington, both of Washington, both former nurses, purchased the building on Washington’s historic Square and filled it with businesses owned and operated by women including a tearoom, bridal shop, florist, clothing store and quilt shop. Not many women owned their own businesses at that time, Hasten said. Their own boutique featured children’s clothing, dolls, penny candy, home décor and antique reproduction furniture from Arcola.
The pair renovated the building, adding a staircase and loft to access the upstairs. They went to market to acquire merchandise. What they didn’t have, initially, was a name. A friend suggested their parents’ favorite song, and “Sentimental Journey,” it was.
They laughed about opening on April Fool’s Day, said Hines, who would become a teacher. Hasten, a recent college graduate at the time, started working at the store that year and never left.
In 1995, Ganz and Feser decided to retire. Hasten convinced Hines to join her in buying the store from their mother and aunt. And so it was that the sisters succeeded the original sisters.
“It has always been a good job,” Hasten emphasized. “We have had such good employees. We could get our kids off to school in the morning and one of us would leave at 3. We took care of each other’s kids.”
Throughout the years, the other stores left. The upstairs was converted to apartments. The popcorn shop was sold, leaving the remaining building for Sentimental Journey.
The business suffered during the 2008 recession. In 2010, Hines left to pursue a different career path. Hasten became the sole owner.
“I wanted to go in a new direction,” she said. Changes included adding specialty lines such as Vera Bradley, a luggage and handbag design company, Alex and Ani jewelry, home décor and a spiritual section featuring gifts for baptisms, confirmations and other religious ceremonies.
“That really changed our customer demographic, bringing in people that had never been here before,” Hasten noted.
Hasten’s daughters began working at the store during high school and college, and both still work there. Her husband, Tim, retired and took over payroll and bookkeeping.
When COVID-19 hit, Hasten said she had a “come to Jesus” meeting with her daughters. “I told them I could walk away and be done. Have a big sale and be done. It was up to the girls.”
“We didn’t believe her for one second,” Arnold said. “She is like the Energizer Bunny,” Joop added.
Her daughters set up a website and expanded the store’s social media reach.
“They took it to a whole new level,” Hasten said.
Meanwhile, “the relationship my daughters have is like the one I have with my sister,” her “best friend” who continues to help out, when needed.
Hasten also is a leader among the specialty shop owners on the Square, who are working collaboratively to make it a regional destination. That effort got a big boost recently with the announcement that Ottawa-based Tangled Roots will soon be breaking ground on a new brewery and restaurant there.
With her daughters on board and other community activities to keep her busy – she served on the board of FivePoints Washington and volunteers with the Washington Food Pantry garden and her church – Hasten is pulling back from the store somewhat. Still, it remains “my happy place,” she said.
Indeed, the store is much more than a job for family members, who shared some of their favorite memories.
Katelyn Arnold recalled watching the Beanie Baby craze through a kid’s eyes.
“We were one of the retailers that had them. People would track the trucks and camp outside our stores,” she said. “It was a thrill to have something the masses wanted. It was a wild time.”
Lauren Joop always loved the annual candlelight stroll around the Square at Christmastime. “My grandfather started the tradition in 1984,” she recalled. “It was like a Hallmark movie. The whole town was here.”
The annual event continues and now the daughters take their own children on the carriage rides.
Shelly remembers going to market with Kris, the lake house the two families shared, the six kids the sisters had between them all growing up together. “There are too many memories to count.”
And now Hasten is eying a potential fourth generation for the family business.
“We got a shipment in and my granddaughters, ages 5 and 3, began unpacking it and lining items up,” she said. “They could not read the labels so they went by the colors. They love to play store and pile items on the counter.”
From sisters to sisters to sisters, it has been a long and sentimental journey, indeed.
Sally McKee is a journalist and former managing editor of the Journal Star.