FROM L TO R: Chris DiMichele, Nikki DiMichele, Johnny France and Sue France. PHOTO BY SAM DIMICHELE

The Bottle Barn

Its ties to two beloved Ennis names

Kari Swenson, a biathlete, was kidnapped at gunpoint by two ‘mountain men’ while on a training run in the Spanish Peaks. FBI teams, helicopters, and multiple facets of law enforcement searched for Swenson for months. Local sheriff, Johnny France, was the man who apprehended the captors.

The Frances moved to Ennis for Johnny’s sheriff position, the one that would end up involving a woman named Kari Swenson. When Johnny had a day off, Sue drove if they were traveling. Duty did not take a break and he was always on the lookout for something not quite right outside the car windows. “It’s never been dull with him,” Sue, Johnny’s wife, said, mentioning if she had not taken over, they probably would have gone off the road.

The couple had three children of their own, but raised more like eight over the years. Johnny had a hard time sending kids in trouble or in need to homes, Sue explained. Coming across these kids on the job stuck with him and so they came home with him. Some stayed for a few days, others a few years.

Chris DiMichele’s, Deemo’s owner, kids work with him at the Bottle Barn, which he purchased from Sue and Johnny late April. Nikki, his daughter, does a lot of the sales and Sam, his son, accomplishes miscellaneous tasks and spends more time working at Deemo’s. Each DiMichele kid has a 1% share in the business. “I’ll tell you what. I’m a blessed man,” DiMichele said, referring to the fact he gets to work on this project with his kids.

DiMichele grew up in New Jersey and received his meat cutting training there. He moved around a bit, to Wyoming and then eventually to Bozeman in 1989, happy to be in a place that gave his kids greater access to the outdoors. He worked in the meat department at Heebs, a place he described as having a Cheers-complex. In its old building, it pretty much screamed character, something Deemo’s now emulates.

He got a job as a meat manager in Ennis in 1994 and eventually bought the Restvedt building and started his businesses. The building he owned included Deemo’s and the Bottle Barn, which Johnny and Sue rented from him until he bought the business. “Anything they needed I jumped right on it and made sure the repairs were done,” DiMichele said. “They were always very cordial and easy to deal with and very nice people.” What is more, DiMichele revered Johnny. “I always looked at him as a legend,” he said.

The Bottle Barn was Sue’s baby for almost 35 years. It was a way for her to stay busy and occupied while Johnny was working. One can only imagine the tension a sheriff ’s wife experiences. Being in charge of a business allowed her hands and mind a reprieve. “I really liked being my own boss. That was an awesome experience and it taught me a lot,” Sue said.

As with most business ventures, being an owner had its buffet of challenges. Recessions, break-ins and Sue’s incomplete knowledge about liquor being just a few. The state sent someone to assist Sue at the store for three days to help her wrap her head around what it took to own a liquor business. “I didn’t know what Jim Beam meant. I didn’t know what Black Velvet meant. I didn’t know about brands,” Sue laughed. Different malt whiskeys? Yeah right. But the challenges were part of why she loved it so much. “I just had so much fun in there. It was just pure joy,” Sue said.

“This has been really, really hard to give it up,” she mentioned, her and Johnny now both in their eighties. The Frances’ kids encouraged them to move on from the businesses to enjoy the rest of their lives. In 2004, Johnny suffered an injury involving a horse and was life-flighted twice. The second time, they put him in a body bag. Friends helped Sue run the Bottle Barn as she spent harried time in between Ennis and Billings, where Johnny was in the Intensive Care Unit. “He’s a walking miracle,” Sue said. Resilient now as he was the summer of 1984 when he found the two mountain men and Swenson.

After they decided to sell the store last September, word of mouth resulted in 17 people interested. “We definitely wanted it to be somebody local and not go corporate. To keep Ennis as we all know and love it,” Sue said.

DiMichele is locally loved. A Facebook post identifying him as a volunteer of the week in the Madisonian had more than 90 likes in just over an hour. People commented, expressing their love for Deemo’s, and shared the post so others could see. “I sure try to be as square and straight as I can, and I can’t see being any other way,” DiMichele said.

“We wish Chris the very best and we’re always there to help,” Sue said. More than likely, she would be thrilled to lend a hand at the store that taught her self-reliance, communication and allowed her to interact with those she loved.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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