Friday, March 20, 2015

The Rizer Sister's Ready-To-Wear

            The Rizer sisters of Junction City ran a ladies’ dress shop on Washington Street for 35 years.  However, their fame in the local area was not due to what they sold as much as what they knew.  For more than half a century, whenever anyone wanted to know anything about the history of this community, they were taken to see the Rizer sisters.  From them, the inquirer could count on learning his own family genealogy—if he was local—as well as a great variety of colorful information about frontier times in Kansas.  Though not always accurate, being based on childhood perceptions and memories, these tales were well told and entertaining and were the basis of many “community legends.”
            Captain Robert O. Rizer and his 19-year-old bride, Josephine, arrived in this area in the spring of 1865, after having made their honeymoon journey from Denver to Fort Riley via horseback with the Captain’s regiment.  Upon their arrival they learned that the Civil War had ended on the day they were married, and soon after, Robert mustered out of the Colorado Cavalry. Daughter, Harriet, was born in their house along with four more daughters to carry on the family line.  Only two of them married.  Harriet, born in 1866 married Fred Gaylord whose family arrived here about the same time as the Rizers, and Theresa, born in 1879 and second to the youngest of the brood, married Fred Durrand another local young man in 1903.  The remaining sisters, Josephine born in 1868, Blanche born in 1876, and Edwina or “Edna,” whose birth in 1884 completed the family, remained single and became the proprietors of the dress shop.
            The Rizer girls grew up in a home where a great variety of visitors were welcomed and entertained.  Such notables as former President U.S. Grant, “Wild Bill” Hickok, General George Custer, Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill and Chief Sitting Bull were among those said to have been entertained in the home which the Rizer’s built on West 6th Street. One can imagine the tales which were told around the dinner table, as these bright and vivacious girls were exposed to the colorful visitors and local personalities that frequented their home.  As they grew to adulthood they each, in turn, became vital, active and opinionated young ladies, feeling very much attuned to the “pulse” of the community. 
            It was in 1918, that Blanche opened a millinery shop at 114 West 8th Street.  This apparently was the forerunner of the dress shop, which the sisters would partner in a year or so later.  Robert Rizer died in 1921, three years after his wife, leaving his three “maiden” daughters to provide for themselves.
            Josephine Dunbar Rizer, second oldest, was the matriarch of the family. Jo’s experience in ladies “ready to wear” was known far and near.  She was in charge of a large department in Rockwell’s Store for years before opening the shop.  Like her sisters, her life was consumed by store operations and there was no time for social activities.  Visiting her friends and customers in the store was ample social contact.  She was a lovely, reserved character who cherished her privacy.
            Blanche Eliza Rizer was artistic.  She excelled in putting colors together—doing complete ensembles.  Blanche always wore colorful dresses—lavender, old rose, blues and pinks.  Though she could clean and arrange the house, she could not and did not boil water.  She made the beds, but not coffee.  Millinery was her forte.  Trimming hats, her enjoyment.  She even left home to run the Millinery department for a large store in Hutchinson at one time, but returned to her sisters and Junction City, which she much preferred. 
            Edwina Catherine Rizer or “Edna” was the baby of the family. Her early experience in business in the “money” department of a large store (Rockwell’s) qualified her to discuss, or argue matters with other merchants of the town.  She kept the books at the Rizer Shop—did the collections, paid the wholesalers, all, in addition to waiting on the trade.
            The Rizer Shop was an “institution” in Junction City almost from its beginning.  Located initially at 617 North Washington the business operated there for about 17 years.  During this time it was the principal destination for women shoppers in town as well as from Fort Riley and the surrounding area.
            In 1935 the sisters moved the shop a few doors north to the corner location (625 North Washington) now occupied by Tom’s Men’s Wear. The Rizer Shop finally closed its doors for good in 1952.  Josephine had passed away in 1949 and with Blanche over 75 and Edwina nearing 70 it was time to bring this venture to a close.  However, with Junction City’s Centennial planned for 1955, without doubt the Rizer sisters kept very busy recounting Junction City’s history for a whole new generation.

Four of the five daughters of Junction City Mayor Robert O. Rizer, were photographed in the 1890s by Junction City photographer Louis Tietzel.  L. to R.  Edwina, Theresa (Married Fred Durrand,) Blanche and Josephine.  For over 35 years Edwina, Josephine and Blanche ran a ladies’ Ready-to-Wear shop on Washington Street which has since become a community legend.