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After filing for bankruptcy protection, BTWW Retail LP, a Dallas investment company, is selling 78 retail stores, including all nine Corral West Ranchwear stores in Montana and stores it acquired in other western retail chains.

Previously announced plans to find a buyer before Thanksgiving saved all 12 of the Corral West stores in Wyoming, but not in Montana.

A person wearing a sandwich board was walking around West Park Plaza on Friday promoting Corral West's liquidation sale. Another was seen along Main Street about a mile south of the Heights store.

Melissa Dye, who manages Corral West at 327 S. 24th St. W., said she got the news during a conference call Tuesday.

"All the Wyoming stores got bought by Boot Town, but none of the nine Montana stores," Dye said. Corral West runs three stores in Billings.

Dye was told that 17 stores were bought out and that the Montana properties would be turned over to a liquidating company. She didn't have long to wait.

"Wednesday morning, the liquidator was walking in my door as I opened," Dye said. During Tuesday's conference call, she was told the Montana stores will be gone in two months, but the liquidator told her she would be closed by the first of the year.

Dye and her three employees watched as the liquidation banners went up on the building and the door and the price-cut signs were hung on every rack,

Corral West, which started in Red Lodge in 1951 and then moved to Cheyenne, Wyo., fell victim to a takeover that didn't work by a company familiar with bankruptcy court.

BTWW bought Corral West in January 2007 and less than two years later declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Texas. BTWW's predecessor, Boot Town, went bankrupt in 2003 and then formed BTWW, a limited partnership.

After 23 years of working for Corral West, Dye said she has her 401(k) retirement account, or more accurately what's left of it, but little else.

"The courts are still deciding if any employees get their vacation pay, and the health benefits are gone," she said.

And other area retailers in hock to Corral West are sweating out getting paid.

Music store opens

Blind Rhino Music, named after a former rock band, claims to be the only music store in Montana with a state-of-the-art recording studio upstairs.

The store, a former church, opened Nov. 17 at 1415 First Ave. N. with close to 10,000 square feet. The ground floor store takes up about 8,000 square feet.

"This is probably the biggest showroom for sure of music stores in this town. And I actually have a stage for use," said guitar-picking owner Chris Wilcox.

Before he branches out into sheet music, Wilcox is concentrating on running a "combo shop" selling drums, guitars, amps, speakers, mikes and the like. He also has a top-gun room with hand-made guitars and amps.

"I would say the most expensive is a Don Grosh, which is $5,400," he said, and top quality amps can cost up to $4,000.

Folks cutting their tunes upstairs in the recording studio can take advantage of the one-stop shop, Wilcox said.

"If you need a different microphone or maybe you don't like the way your guitar sounds recorded, we've got guitars and amps for rent," he said.

Parents can chill over coffee in a lounge area while their kids pluck strings or bang on drum sets.

The popularity of playing the guitar hasn't seemed to wane over the years, Wilcox said, adding that some of the kids today are getting hooked on music through "Guitar Hero."

"I took six years of piano lessons and I hated it," Wilcox said. "With a guitar, you have to learn chords and the theory, but you have the freedom to play what you want to play."

By the way, the name Blind Rhino started as a takeoff on the name of a famous rock band, Def Leopard. During a 1990s ski trip to Red Lodge, Wilcox and his band members conjured up the Blind Rhino name.

Out and about

• Steel bones are starting to form the skeleton of a future First Interstate Bank operations center across from North Park.

• Equus & Paws LLC, a shop at 2059 Broadwater Ave., has been open nearly four months and specializes in dogs and horses.

"I do canine massage and equine massage and dog grooming, and the store has treats and toys, including dog canteens for walks," said owner Elizabeth McNeilly. "Everything that comes in here is holistic right down to the shampoo."

By the numbers

• 12,000 - Number of Montana families served a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving by local food banks or hunger relief agencies with "Turkey Bucks" donations at Albertsons grocery stores.

• 3 of 25 - Billings, Great Falls and Missoula made a list of the best 25 cities in which to find a job, according to Careerbuilder.com

Scams du jour

• E-mail scams claiming to be from legitimate companies continue. One of many recently showed up in a Gazette photographer's account. "Capital One credit card" said it detected irregular credit card activity on his account and he had to call them immediately. These e-mails look legitimate. But this one was sent to a work e-mail address and the company said it didn't send the e-mail.

Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com or 657-1306.

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