Work is one big party for Toni Thorne.

At Walla Walla rental retailer Sandy’s U-Rent, Thorne has the community’s party planning supply needs down to near science.

August, for instance, tends to be a ripe season for weddings. So, for that matter, is June, along with graduation parties and winemaker dinners. July tends to be reserved more for family gatherings. Next month, she’ll see a shift again to winery events, including harvest parties.

The need for supplies may change, but the occasions generally stay the same.

Thorne would know. The rental business at 1510 Isaacs Ave. has supplied events, festivals and celebrations for almost 60 years.

Although Thorne has been there 30, her history with the business runs even deeper.

She grew up around the corner from the back entrance to the building as neighbors with late founder and namesake Sandy Koonz.

Thorne’s dad, Les Rouse, eventually joined Koonz as a business partner in the operation and then bought the operation when Koonz was ready to retire.

The business was an early job for Thorne and her sisters. But it became a more permanent spot for Thorne’s own career.

At the time she started, the operation was more of a rental business for maintenance and power equipment than tables, chairs and cutlery.

“There was a champagne glass in one style, and a couple of metal chairs and tables to rent at that point,” Thorne recalled.

“Over time it just kind of expanded and got to the point where you could rent a linen and a lawn mower at the same counter.”

That’s when she knew the time had come for a decision: either split the business with two locations and purposes or focus on one area of expertise.

Events rentals won, even though the town only had a handful of wineries at the time.

“We felt it,” Thorne said. “We knew something bigger was coming.”

Now, she said, wine industry dinners, events and parties are a major feeder for the business.

Demand for the company’s supply of 3,000 Riedel magnum wineglasses comes at just about every wine tasting weekend, as wineries supplement their own supplies for tastings. With every glass hand polished, it’s often easier to meet demand that way. Now a second Riedel white wineglass is being added to the collection.

Sandy’s U-Rent boasts close to 6,000 table cloths in varying colors and 10,000 napkins. Tables and chairs are always the biggest demand, Thorne said. Tents have become a popular trend but are more complicated than traditional supplies because they qualify as structures and require inspections, permits and underground utility locates.

The party planning rental menu includes everything from gas grills, mirror balls, strobe lights and stanchions to dance flooring, beverage fountains, and even a galvanized tub beverage holder.

Demands for parties change all the time. But the constant for Thorne is the chance to be part of special occasions for the community.

“I still love what I do,” she said. “I look forward to coming to work.”


Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, or on Twitter at

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.