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DOWNEY - When Bill and Kitty Thompson got married in October of 1967, there was a hitch. They had ordered rentals for the reception, but only half the chairs they had ordered were delivered: the excuse was that the supplier had over-booked. Also, the china and glasses were dirty.
Recalling the moment, Kitty says, "We stayed up half the night before washing dishes!"
"As we talked about the poor quality and service," she says, "we decided we could do a much better job. Besides we worked for the same company, and there was a policy against employing a husband-and-wife team in the same company."
Thus was born Downey Party Rentals.
"We opened our business when we got back from our honeymoon. Our son, Nicholas, started with the company when he was 12, and he started at the bottom. Eight years ago, after 20 years with the company, he became manager, and he does a great job."
"In the thick of things are our drivers, driver-helpers, and driver-cleaners," she says. "They number six strong men, and can easily lift 50-60 pounds, the average weight of tables."
The company started out with $50,000 worth of inventory. The couple tried to imagine what items would be needed for a party, so they bought tables, chairs, bars, table linen, glasses, china, flatware, wedding accessories, cooking and concession accessories. Even dance floors, trays, garden equipment, lighting and miscellaneous items (including podiums, p.a. systems, raffle drums, patio heaters, etc.)
"We are constantly adding new items to our inventory to meet our customers' needs," says Kitty. "Our latest estimate of current inventory, for insurance evaluation purposes, is set at $250,000."
"We mostly stay busy," she says. "Orders go out, returns keep coming, and when it's really busy, like these last few weeks, the phone hasn't stopped ringing."
After 47 years of doing business with her customers, most of whom enjoy mutual respect and trust, they have become her friends and are treated like family.
Kitty says her Downey Party Rentals has its serious side of looking at the numbers (costs, and maybe profits), but mostly "It's been fun."
Husband Bill's activities for the company have somewhat become recently limited by his diabetes, but otherwise his early contributions to the growth of the company cannot be minimized. He still once in a while helps with washing the dishes, says Kitty, but most of the time he stays home. His being an Angels fan helps dispel the boredom.
There are lulls in operations. When this happens, the Thompsons like to relax in the High Sierras.
"I love Downey and I love this business, she says, and I say it's fun because generally the customers are in a good mood. They come into the store in good spirits because they know they're looking forward to have a good time later."
Kitty was born in Seattle of a German/English dad and Irish/Northwest Indian mother, moved to Compton when she was 5, and moved to Downey when she was 12. She graduated from Downey High in 1964, went to Westminster College in Salt Lake City for a year, then attended Long Beach State for a year. "I was going to be a teacher," she says.
Then the family moved to Anaheim Hills in 1975. Indeed, she was a pre-school teacher for 15 years; while working at Hephatha Lutheran Pre-School in Anaheim Hills.
At one time, she says, she had three years of Latin. "My strongest point was editing at Downey High," she says.
"I look forward to having more grand times ahead. I really, really like my work. My customers, my friends, my vendors-it's so much fun dealing with them," she adds.
She and Bill have a daughter, Danielle, who lives in Santa Monica. Kitty is more excited than anybody when she announced she was having twins in June.
Published: Jan. 9, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 39