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On a history note | Remember the old mom-&-pop stores downtown

West Bend, Wi – Grandparents around West Bend and Washington County, WI, can remember an era when they did all their shopping downtown. Shoe stores, drug stores, grocery stores and meat lockers were all part of the Main Street.

storesIt was an era before Mayfair Mall and the Bay Shore Town Center. It was even before the Westfair Mall and the West Bend Outlet Mall which included stores like The Cookie Jar, Knit Pikker Factory Outlet, Uncle Wonderful’s Ice Cream Parlor, and Rainbow Fashions.

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“We shopped downtown because there wasn’t anything on Paradise,” said Jerry Wolf. “The city ended by Badger, which was the high school at the time.”


Wolf was about 10 years old in 1945; he recalled there were three grocery stores downtown including a Red Owl, 138 N. Main St.

“Jeklin’s Shoes was on the corner of Main and Cedar Streets and just south of that was a hardware store called Gambles and I bought my first bicycle there, I think it was a Hiawatha,” said Wolf.


Cherrie Ziegler Catlin remembered the F.W. Woolworths downtown. “It was a haven for all sorts of trinkets that kept kids busy spending their allowance each week,” she said.

Popular stores downtown

Bonnie Brown Rock remembered Carbon’s IGA grocery on Main Street as well as Naab’s Food & Locker Service. “My parents bought sides of beef which were kept in a freezer at Naab’s store,” said Brown. The business was at 432 S. Main St.; the current location of Lori’s Costume Shop.

“Dad also went there to get ice cream cake roll on Sundays as our refrigerator didn’t have a freezer,” she said.

Former Washington County Board Chairman Ken Miller remembered Saturday nights were for shopping in West Bend.

“That was in the late 1930s and early 1940s,” said Miller. “J.C. Penny’s was one of the stops for dry goods and the unique thing about the early Penny’s was the cashier was upstairs in a loft. The clerk would put money in a kind of cup, attach it to a ‘trolley’ affair and pull the handle sending the trolley, cup and money to the cashier who in turn would put the change in the apparatus and send it back.”

WM Peters was one of many stores downtown

Parking, recalled Miller, was a problem. Main Street was originally Highway 45 and shoppers parked parallel to the curb, not at an angle as it is today.

“Tight quarters meant shoppers would double park, that meant side by side,” said Miller. “This caused some problems but was later accepted. I believe there was a time limit as to how long one could double park.”

Other unique downtown shopping standards, according to Miller, were grocery stores did not have aisles and display racks, because the grocer got the items from behind the counter. Almost all transactions were in cash as credit cards were nonexistent and checks were few.

“On rare occasions after shopping we would pick up my grandpa and go to Sam Moser’s tavern (currently Muggles) for chili, maybe a hamburger and a small glass of beer,” said Miller. “Yes, beer was OK for kids as soda was not good for you.”

During high school, Miller said Dewey’s Drug Store was the popular hangout. “It was known for its cherry Coke and the Colonial Restaurant for hamburgers,” he said.

Brown Rock also remembered Dewey’s. “They had booths and Mr. Dewey didn’t like the kids to get too loud,” she said. “I don’t remember spending much time there however I had many after school hot-fudge sundaes at the Parkette.”

Todd Tennies, of Tennies Ace Hardware, said the impact the memories people have of shopping 50 years ago in downtown West Bend is still a big part of the community today.

“Locally owned businesses employ people that live in our community and the staff is well trained in product knowledge and customer service,” said Tennies.

Today’s circa 1960 photo, courtesy the Washington County Historical Society, is the downtown West Bend shopping district. The photo looks to the northeast from the intersection of Hickory and Main Streets. On the left is the local Standard Oil Station. On the right is the old Hotel Schlegel which later became Schultz Brothers variety store. To the right is the Walker Shoe Store and to the left are the West Bend Pharmacy, West Bend Theater and Wisconsin Electric Power Co.

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