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REAL ESTATE | Reincarnation of Gene Otten’s “black pen” at Green Dog Market in West Bend, WI

West Bend, WI – Across the country there’s a growing resurgence of small mom-and-pop grocery stores. Independent markets that lean heavy into organic and source through area farmers are becoming more common as neighbors are paying more attention to where their food comes from. In West Bend, WI there’s been a resurrection of Otten Food Market history as Gene Otten’s famed ‘black pen’ can be found scribbling on items at the new hometown Green Dog Market, 237 N. Main Street. Owner Stefanie Ulma is using the black pen to help everyone start their day on a positive note.

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“I write messages on my sandwiches,” she said about the thoughtful notes scratched on the paper wrapping on her daily sandwich selection. “It’s something my mom did for me when I was in school.”

Ulma explained, when she was a child, her mom would pack her lunch and put a note on a napkin.

 

“The note was written in black pen,” said Ulma. “She actually gave me two napkins and one had the note. She would write something about have a good day or I love you or see you when you get home.”

 

Ulma said it made her feel “loved.”

Click HERE to follow Green Dog Market on Instagram

Gene and Suzie Otten set the bar high for their little grocery, Otten’s Food Market. Whether it be a kind word, the warmth of his smile, a positive attitude, his sincere caring for you as a person, or his empathy if you experienced a hard time…

When you entered the store, he would greet you with, ‘how are doing today brother,’ and you always left feeling a little better than you did walking in.

In Barton, Otten’s Food Market was the lifeline of the community. According to the 1960 telephone directory Otten’s Food Market was at 809 Main, Barton.  The phone number FE 4-3630. The mom-and-pop grocer reportedly started in 1893 and Gene and Suzie ran it from the 1940s to December 1997.

Gene Otten

Former West Bend alderman Terry Vrana represented Barton and vividly remembered Gene Otten and his “discount pen.”

Gene knew the wherewithal of his customers and marked down prices accordingly. He had strong faith and an easy-going nature… and that black pen. Neighbors would say he marked everything down. Not sure how he made any money, but he also didn’t seem to care.

Former alderman Jim German remembered visiting the store with his mother. “Gene would always have a song for my mom. I can’t remember what he sang but he was quite the ladies man.”

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Attorney John Best remembered when he first met Gene.  “I opened my own law firm in the Barton Rollers Mills and wandered into his store for a soda. I left two hours later. It was like stepping back in time. Mr. Otten was always ready with a handshake and kind word and if he felt you needed it, some Biblical boosting.”

Other local stores during that era include the A&P Food Store on 4th Avenue, Baum’s Superette on N. Trenton School Road, Brookins Bros. Meat Market and Flitter’s Queen Quality Grocery on Chestnut.

The IGA was at 233 N. Main Street, Kranenburg’s Food Market, National Food Store, St. Michael’s Grocery & Tavern on Hwy 28, Wegener Grocery on Hickory, Perry Grocery on S. Seventh Avenue, and West Bend Buy-Low Inc.

Green Dog Market has a similar old-school feel with its hardwood floors, fresh locally sourced produce, and a strong vendor list of independent suppliers from across Washington County and southeastern Wisconsin.

Green Dog Market recently updated its hours. M-F 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Tue-Thurs 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. and Saturday 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Closed on Sunday.

 

Below is a poem by Janie Ripple-Kreis about the old Otten’s Food Store in Barton

Barton, WI – The story about the old Otten Food Store in Barton ran in February 2018 during a series about some of the corner grocery stores in the West Bend area. The piece below was submitted by Janie Ripple-Kreis. She wrote it for Genie & Suzie Otten when they closed their store in Barton.

In December ’97, “The Otten’s Food Store” closed.

The market value of this business never was disclosed.

 

I thought about its “Net Worth,” and I took a good look-see

At this grocery store that started in 1893.

 

To help formulate a “Balance Sheet,” first I did subtract…

As “TOTAL LIABILITIES,” the things that Otten’s lacked:

 

No “Express Lanes,” no “Pharmacy,” no in-store “Tyme Machine”

No computerized registers, no fancy haute-cuisine.

 

No liquor mart, no videos, no photo-center rack;

No grocery carts, no banking branch, no tempting bric-a-brac.

 

No flower section to showcase fresh beautiful bouquets

No piped-in stereo system with music all ablaze

 

No restaurant inside the store, no patron discount cards;

No European glass display, no Security Guards.

 

No in-store printouts listing all the special giveaways;

No huge tanks filled with water & the fresh catch of the day.

 

No walls filled with magazines & greeting cards to buy;

No strange, exotic foodstuffs – hard to identify.

 

No ‘in-house baked goods section,’ with hot bakery to sell;

No chef employed to cook fresh meals & package them as well.

 

No full-time butcher to display the custom cuts of meats

(All of these things I listed under “DEBITS” on my sheet.)

 

Next, I needed “ASSETS” to try to accurately gauge,

And I added them to the large equation on my page:

 

The most important asset that the customer could sense

Was Otten’s friendly atmosphere (devoid of all pretense.)

 

A “Hi There, how ‘ya doing,” greeted those who came to shop.

(A welcome so authentic, just like being with ‘Mom & Pop.’)

 

Each customer was treated absolutely fair and square;

And no one remained a stranger, if once they had shopped there!

 

Each person there was witness to a clean-cut joke or two;

(And heard a few nostalgic quotes before his trip was through.)

 

 

 

Almost all of Otten’s customers loved to chew the fat;

(Some deep discussions started at the dropping of a hat.)

 

If one was pressed for money, that would surely be okay;

(Their groceries were put on a “tab” to pay another day!)

 

Genie’s views were widely known, ‘cuz he voiced them unafraid;

(His ‘religion’ was evident in every statement made.)

 

Conversations always started with “Who, When, Where or What;”

Conversations always ended with “God Bless You, Thanks A Lot!”

 

And Suzie’s calming influence, just complimented Gene;

Side-by-side, behind the counter, became her life’s routine.

 

Another reason customers kept coming back for more

Was ‘Cora’ who delivered goods right to their own front door.

 

The “ASSETS” clearly tipped the scales, I now could clearly see!

How could I place a value on such camaraderie!

 

So, with info I compiled, it’s my educated guess,

The bottom line is Otten’s Foods truly was PRICELESS!

 

Read more about Gene Otten:

Business owners remember Gene Otten. 

                                      Obituary for Gene Otten.

 

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