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Sunday, October 15, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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PLANET NORTHWEST

Montana leaves Washington for California

HER NAME IS RUBY MONTANA, not to be confused with the small town of Ruby, Montana (population, about 12). That's because she is about as unique as they come, a shop owner whose name will be etched in the pantheon of Seattle's legendary retailers: Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, Chubby & Tubby. Now she's gone, but the name rides on.

The early years, condensed version

ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a little girl in Oklahoma who liked to dress up like a cowgirl and collect stamps, rocks and even limbs from trees. In 1980, she opened Ruby Montana's Pinto Pony in Seattle, which quickly established itself as one of this quirky city's quirkiest shops.

The retail years, mohair version

RUBY MONTANA'S store in Pioneer Square looked like an old Western tack shop on the outside and a shrine to the 1950s and humor on the inside.

The display window might feature a $1,500 mohair sofa that could have come off the set of "Ozzie and Harriet," and next to it would be a $1.50 whoopie cushion. Lots of other junk (one of Ruby's favorite terms) was in there, too, from Pez dispensers to punching-nun puppets.

If some visitors left baffled, that was the plan. "It was kind of not what it pretended to be," Ruby said recently before saddling up for Palm Springs.

She was called the Queen of Kitsch. She founded the now-famous Spam Carving Contest in Pioneer Square, an idea she said came to her in a dream. "I have weird dreams. People say, `You don't have dreams like Martin Luther King,' " Montana said. No, but he didn't get Seattle City Councilwoman Tina Podlodowski to declare a "Ruby Montana Day" in 1998.

These years, Palm Springs version

HER SEATTLE STORE is closed, but you can find it at www.rubymontana.com. And you can find Ruby, now 52, running a six-unit resort with pool in the old part of Palm Springs. It's now the Ruby Montana Coral Sands Inn, and it hasn't changed much in 48 years - just how Ruby likes it.

Selling her Ravenna house, which she bought 30 years ago for $30,000 and which recently was listed for more than $500,000, will help pay for it.

The four-bedroom house was an extension of her store, stuffed with stuff and patrolled by her three friendly, barking dogs: Charlie Pride, Louis L'Amour and Dale Evans.

Before she left, she talked of how much she'll miss Seattle, the rain, the people, the junk stores. But she said she won't miss the traffic, the crime and the cost of living.

If there is a Pioneer Square in Palm Springs, Ruby Montana found it, the neighborhood where Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Dinah Shore once lived. To get to Ruby's place, take a right at the mailbox shaped like a piano in front of where Liberace once lived.

"I think Palm Springs is ready for me. It's a pretty crazy community."

And if it's not ready for her, there is always Ruby, Montana. They could probably use some more people.

Bill Kossen is a writer for The Seattle Times. You may e-mail this page at pacificnw@seattletimes.com, or write P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Planet Northwest response line: 206-464-3337.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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