ROCHELLE — This year, Diamond G Western Store in rural Rochelle is celebrating 50 years of business.
The family business is owned and operated by sisters Sandy Rogers and Donna Sassaman. The authentic western store offers a selection of hats, boots, clothes, jewelry, belts, buckles, horse supplies and more.
“There aren't any other western stores around here with the history,” Rogers said. “But there were a lot of western stores that started up in the past. But they're gone now. There's hardly any left. It's hard being a specialty store. But it's well worth it. We've had horses all our lives. So this is kind of a natural situation.”
The store also offers services unique to the area such as hat shaping, stretching and cleaning along with personalizing belts. Rogers said services like that aren’t easy to find anymore.
Near the front of the store, a wall of newspaper clippings and memorabilia has been put up celebrating the 50th anniversary. Longtime customers or friends have come into the store and seen themselves in the photos.
"When I look at this board with all of these pictures and newspaper clippings and memories after all these years, it makes me feel proud,” Rogers said. “It was hard, hard work getting started. It took time."
Rogers and Sassaman said the store is planning promotions later this year to celebrate the anniversary.
The pair started riding horses when they were three years old. Sassaman is a former Miss Rodeo USA. Rogers spent 42 years as a professional rodeo secretary. The family spent time over the years selling and competing in rodeos.
“Our travels down the road are among my fondest memories,” Sassaman said. “We'd fill up the trailers with merchandise and go and set up. All the other stores that would set up would have people come by and do it for them. People would come by and laugh at us because it was just Sandy and I. We had fun doing that.”
Diamond G Western Store was on the road at the famous International Livestock Show and Rodeo in Chicago, at the World Quarter Horse Show in Louisville, Kentucky, the World Quarter Horse Show in Oklahoma City and many more events all over the United States.
Diamond G started a winter rodeo series, which lasted 13 winters. They held 20 performances a year a year through the winter months. As its popularity grew, the venue became known as the “Cow Palace.” The crowd got to see national finals contestants from 11 states compete including Tom Oar of the Mountain Men TV series.
“The rodeos were a huge success and made many fond memories for a lot of people,” Rogers and Sassaman said. “People still stop with their kids or grandchildren just to show them where they spent part of their winters.”
Rogers said the 50 years went by quickly at Diamond G Western Store. There have been “huge changes” to the location, including the store being added onto and a shed was built for rodeos with bleachers, bathrooms and heat. Sassaman recalled the store’s early years.
“We had to start out trying to find salespeople that would come out here,” Sassaman said. “They'd think it was just a garage. We opened and took a picture and it went in the paper. We didn't have much for sale then. Just 5-6 halters and a few other things.”
The pair’s parents, Milo and Dena Gittleson, liked horses and the western atmosphere. Running a family business came easily to them.
“I thought running a business as a family worked out pretty good because we could always rely on each other,” Sassaman said. “If one of us couldn't work for some reason, there was always somebody there. The family just stuck together.”
Longtime customers and rodeo attendees come into the store on occasion and talk about memories with Sassaman and Rogers.
“I enjoy the whole atmosphere,” Rogers said. “It's out in the country, we have a lot of woods around us and wildlife. Our customers are nice. Most everyone that comes in is impressed with the store and nice and friendly. We have people that have been coming here since day one 50 years ago. And they bring it up every time they come through the door. 'I've been coming here since the beginning.'”