Welcome to the Senne Family
We're proud to say that Import Market has become a Missoula institution after over 45 years in business. Did you know a local Missoula family built this little institution—Gene and Nancy Senne and their three hard-working children Kristal, Sam, and Shad?
Running a family business is a rare thing these days. In the beginning, you would often find Grandma Esther working the counter. There also might be a newborn in someone's arms and a toddler waving hello as you walked into the shop.
We Senne kids grew up with a desire to travel the world, and, like our parents, bring back what we've found for the people in our community to enjoy. Missoula's only import business has changed over the years, but the goal of providing the best products at the lowest prices possible hasn't.
Import Market Adventure Began in 1970
Believe it or not, Gene’s first job out of college was working in juvenile corrections in Florida, but his heart longed for Montana. After returning, he learned that Missoula’s probation office wasn’t hiring. He thought about what he wanted to do with his life and remembered how much he enjoyed walking through Pier One while living down south. Gene sold his car, took the $2500 from his retirement fund and drove to Mexico in a rented U-Haul. From there, he’s never looked back.
Import Market started as a wholesale consignment business for Mexican imports that Gene ran out of his basement. Within 3 years he had over 25 accounts spread all over western Montana. In the beginning, Gene was making frequent trips to Mexico for loads of Mexican statuary every 2 to 3 months. He eventually bought a 5-ton truck, Bertha, with a 12 Foot trailer (picture a small semi). The trips to Mexico became fewer, as the carry loads were larger.
Wholesale worked out so well, that Gene decided he wanted to open a retail business specializing in imports. He had a friend help him draft several letters to different established businesses in the northwest, explaining to them that he wished to purchase imports through them. Pier One responded with a franchise offer, which Gene could not afford, but thankfully the Import Market in Spokane extended an olive branch that worked for the both parties.
The Washington store owner, Bob, agreed to give Gene a 30 percent discount on anything in his store as long as he spent at least $500. They had a business relationship for over a decade and Bob became one of Gene’s business mentors, staying in the store after hours while Gene was shopping, giving him longstanding advice.
In 1975, Gene opened his brick and mortar shop at the warehouse mall off of Toole Avenue. (If you’re familiar with Draught Works Brewery, it’s right next door). After a week of being open, he made his first sale, a $5.99 seashell wind-chime to a dentist from Alaska. This is when Gene knew he would make it in the retail world. The 200 square foot shop eventually moved to the front of the building on the 2nd floor, right off the main entrance, near Mammoth bakery, expanding to around 600 square feet.
5 years later, the Import Market was bursting at the seams and Gene started looking at his options. This happened to be the same year that Southgate Mall opened up, and downtown Missoula had turned into a ghost town. Opportunity showed itself and Gene rented 1000 square feet in our current location on Broadway. Through pure dumb luck, the landlords at the time had a large business idea implode and they wanted out of the building, so eventually they came up with something that worked for everyone, and the building ownership changed hands.
Suitcases Filled with Culture
In the early 90s, Bob in Spokane decided to retire and close down his chain of stores. He wrote letters of introduction to his vendors in the Philippines, Thailand and China. Gene took the letters, contacted people through faxes, packed his bags and headed for Asia. In the beginning he traveled light, filling empty suitcases and backpacks with small goods, while shipping entire train containers full of wicker from the orient. As my sister and I became old enough, we tagged along, and together we learned the tricks of the trade while falling in love with traveling.
Gene has always had a knack for wheeling and dealing. He discovered early on, that if he bought in bulk, he would not only save himself money, but he could extend the value on to his customers. Growing up, my sister and I would sometimes be embarrassed by his “cheapness”, but there has been countless occasions where we have walked away from a deal that seemed too expensive to our father, only to have the vendor chase us down the street with a better price. Our goal is to bring a little piece of the world to share with our beautiful city we call home. We pride ourselves with supporting small businesses and artisans all over the planet and hope to do this for many more decades.
Artisans and Adventures
In addition to imports, the shop has carried the ever-popular dish line, Fiesta ware, since 1988. Today we are the largest open stock supplier of Fiesta in the northwest. We also provide great prices on furniture, home décor, jewelry, gift items and so much more. Import Market is where you go to find trinkets and gifts unique to Missoula.
Not only are we a fun store to shop in, we are also a downtown landmark full of generations of memories. The building itself was built in 1908, the same year as the Courthouse. This three-story structure was originally the Paxton Hotel. Many people passed through the doors as guests, including our grandmother when she first visited Missoula with her sister in the 1930s.
We pride ourselves in making our space a shopping experience unlike anywhere else. Family owned and operated for over 45 years; Import Market still holds to our dad’s values. Our goal will always be to find our customers the best quality product at the lowest possible prices.