Butte native Maria Kendall left Montana in the 1990s to pursue a career in education, but what she didn’t know at the time was that one day she’d find herself longing for the place where she grew up.
Now Kendall is back, and she recently opened a kids’ clothing, toy and candy store on West Park Street, adding to the Uptown shopping scene in Butte.
The store, Kynslee Rae, had its grand opening in October and features clothes for infants through 16-year-olds. The clothing at the store offers a tasteful yet playful vibe, featuring prints for kids who love romping in the outdoors alongside lighthearted tops adorned with ruffled sleeves.
Kendall selects items for Kynslee Rae from her vendors, but she also works with a wholesaler to design her own creations. The process involves using ready-made prints and combining them on different garments. Kendall also collaborates with the wholesaler to come up with prints designed especially for her store.
Most Kynslee Rae outfits, with pants and a shirt, are around $16 to $17. Kendall says she picked her price points based on her experience as a parent and also by comparing prices at different retailers in Butte.
“I want parents to be able to walk in here and get their child a new outfit and not feel like they’ve emptied they’re checking account for it,” she said.
To help budget-conscious parents, the store also offers layaway.
A Butte native, Kendall left the Mining City for Texas to pursue a career in education. She started out as a teacher, held various positions at the district level and later became the executive director of a large, education-based corporation.
Meanwhile, Kendall initially launched Kynslee Rae in 2015 as an online retailer, naming her business after her daughter. She always wanted to have her own business, Kendall said, and it was a way to do something for herself on the side.
Kendall enjoyed her life as a career woman, but she says her heart was always in Butte. She found herself longing to move back to her hometown and believed opening her online business as a brick-and-mortar retailer in the Mining City could be a way to make the move work.
While deciding what her next move would be, Kendall often wondered where would be the best location for her boutique and when would be the right time for her to take the leap. Finally, after the fall of several national retailers in recent years, Kendall decided to make her move, opening Kynslee Rae earlier this year.
Kendall said she believes retail businesses can thrive in Butte, but it takes networking, being a community player and giving back to the community.
“You love the community as much as you love what you’re doing,” she said — and that’s a special sauce that local business owners can bring to the table.
So what’s it like going from a fast-paced corporate job to owning a small business in Butte, America?
Not all that different, actually, according to Kendall.
“I think it’s the same thing, except I’m doing it for myself now,” she said. “That’s what’s kind of neat.”
Through Kynslee Rae, Kendall is continuing to put her expertise as an educator into practice by offering an array of educational games and toys.
From her perspective, play is a form of learning, and she stocks her store with toys that are designed around this principle, mainly those by Connecticut-based manufacturer Melissa & Doug.
“It’s hands on, it’s creative, it’s using their imaginations,” she said, reflecting on the Melissa & Doug brand.
When asked whether she thinks there’s room for brick-and-mortar retailers in a world of online shopping, Kendall responded in the affirmative, stating that consumers continue to want to try things on and have quick, easy returns. And most of all, shopping brick-and-mortar is also something fun for kids.
“There’s something, too, of just being a parent and having your children… (experience the) ownership and excitement of picking items out,” she said.
In fact, Kendall said, some scholars speculate that kids who pick out their own clothes tend to be more resilient.
In the long term, Kendall hopes Kynslee Rae can become a community space.
Already the shop owner is working toward that goal by hosting family nights, a free event where parents create crafts with their children while munching on snacks and taking part in a prize drawing. Another special event hosted by the store is “Muffins with Mom,” a moms-only gathering in which the store offers free muffins and craft making sessions. In the future, Kendall hopes to take part in charitable events.
“My (goal) is that, if people heard the name Kynslee Rae, they’d say, yes, they’re a clothing store, toy store, candy store, (but) they’re also an important member of the community and they’ve made an impact. I feel like it’s finally time to do that after being gone for so long,” said Kendall.