Earthy wedding reception vignettes stand under rustic, handcrafted Pinterest-inspired displays. Large windows and chiffon drapery juxtapose ornate chandeliers. Pops of greenery accent every corner of the showroom. The possibilities for parties are endless, and imagination takes flight.
Beyond is the store where a rainbow of plates, napkins, and balloons are available for purchase. In the basement is a full-service equipment rental. Out back rests a fleet of RVs. From chainsaws to lawn mowers, anything available for rental is also for sale.
If you need it, they have it. “We put the pro in your project,” Janice Houser, director of party division, says, teasing the company’s tagline. It’s only fitting that U.S. Rents-It has been an icon of Jeff City for almost 80 years.
In 1938, before the city’s housing boom, Hugo Gentges, Janice’s great uncle, opened a roofing company, U.S. and Gentges Roofing, in the same spot the U.S. Rents-It building stands today, nestled between the railroad and Highway 50. He named it after himself and his steel manufacturer, U.S. Steel.
By the ’50s, construction had plateaued, and the need to repair homes replaced the urgency to build them. In 1954, a gentleman approached Hugo to ask about borrowing his hammer. “For five cents, you can rent it,” Hugo said.
This was the genesis of U.S. Rents-It. Hugo added the first fleet of campers to the rentals. Then he opened a garage upstairs to service the vehicles. A moving center was onboarded. Any new services he could provide, he would. “Hugo was the leader back in the ’50s and ’60s,” Janice says “If there was a possibility, he added it.”
In the mid ’60s, Hugo’s wife, Imralee, saw an untapped market: parties. She cleared out the grease and tires from a corner of the garage and set up the party store where the present-day wedding showroom currently resides. Outside, she placed a sandwich board enticing customers: “Come, and see what’s ‘It.’”
Today, U.S. Rents-It offers a full-service rental and doesn’t stray from Hugo’s hospitality. “In a world today where everything is so new, it’s nice to have something familiar,” Janice says. “I think that’s what U.S. Rents-It creates.”
Making Their Mark
In January 2015, Janice and her husband, Steve, took over management of U.S. Rents-It after general manager Frank Gentges, Hugo’s son, decided to retire. Janice jumped at the opportunity to be back in Jefferson City and continue the legacy.
“Jefferson City is so unique in that it’s a family community,” Janice says. “To see that a family business survives as long as it does, we’re grateful.”
Janice is no stranger to the industry. Her 30 years of experience, catering background, and hospitality degree only solidify that customer service is in her blood.
Before Janice, the showroom was merely a grab-and-go set up. Following Imralee before her, she gave the party division a facelift. Where the large windows are, she designed wedding reception vignettes. Where there wasn’t a variety, she grew, including the inventory of fabrics, chasers, and decor.
“Doesn’t matter if you’re spending two dollars here or thousands,” Janice says. Each customer gets 100 percent from the company. Janice offers free consultations, and has been known to personally drive to her client’s venue to help find misplaced items.
“U.S. Rents-It is big, but I think the core concept of it is simple, which is just that the tradition and the culture that it brings to Jefferson City is something old that always has a new flair about it,” she says.
Janice continues to channel her family before her — Irmalee’s vision and energy for hospitality and Hugo’s entrepreneurial spirit. “We rarely say no,” she says. “We’re like the cornucopia of the renting world. We have a little bit of everything.”
This is an understatement.
The party division is a full-service rental. U.S. Rents-It’s team delivers, sets up and breaks down, and can be as involved as customers like them to be. The rental counter is for DIYers. The equipment rental downstairs exceeds homeowner, construction, and landscaper needs.
“If we have it and you want it, you can buy it,” she says.“The future is always how you can better the experience,” she says. “I think that’s why U.S. Rents-It having the core of what Hugo believed in will help us reach for whatever is next on the horizon.”