News: Neillsville - Wasserburger Bros. Closing Store (Oct 1 1980)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Wasserburger, Schock, Parrett, Georgas, Chadwick, Kessler, Battersby, Inderrieden

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 10/02/1980

Wasserburger Bros. Empty Till Last Time (Closing Store - 1980)

So many times in the life of a small community one marks the “passing of an era.” One such event will take place in Neillsville on October 1 when Charles C. Wasserburger Company Store on West Seventh Street closes its doors.

At that time the store will have served people in the area for 76 years, making it the oldest retail store still operating in Neillsville.

It is a department store still operated in the old manner – a clerk gives individual attention to every item a customer orders.

The closing of the doors will mark the retirement of Henry, 91, and Leo, 81, both deans of retail service in the area. (Both were honored by the Neillsville Area Chamber of Commerce in 1977.)

A mark of the store’s beginning is in the horse shed, which has been preserved at the rear of the store. During the horse-and-buggy days, the sheds and others built across the street behind the Hemp Saloon, were filled during semi-monthly creamery paydays. That is when area folks did their grocery shopping for people then came to town only occasionally, and only at other times when necessity beckoned.

In reminiscing about those earlier days recently, Henry recalled that a big-family food bill would run perhaps $18 to $20-a sizeable amount in those days. That bill, incidentally, was exclusive of meats, for farmers raised their own fresh meat mostly. Farmers formed the greater proportion of the Wasserburger trade.

Family Operation: The grocery store was not started by the Wasserburger whose name the enterprise has carried all those years. Charles D. Wasserburger, the father of the business, first owned and operated a saloon on the corner of Seventh and West Streets where Hillbilly Hollow, a modern tavern, is now located and is operated by James Wasserburger, a grandson of Charles. (Incidentally, oldsters will recall the small area in which Ellsworth Shock operated a barbershop during and after World War II. That was the area that housed the women’s john in the old saloon.)

In its early days, the east half of the present retail building was operated as a hotel by a man named Marks. The second floor contained the rooms, the first floor included a dining room as well as the lobby. That arrangement accounts for the wide stairway which still rises to the second floor of the building.

When C.C. Wasserburger bought the building in 1904, his son and daughter, Charles, Jr., and Kathrine (better known as “Katie” by young and old, alike) started a grocery store in the building. They also installed a line of soft goods. In 1907, the west half of the building was built, and the soft goods lines were expanded.

The store was largely a family enterprise throughout the years, although a few others were employed. One of them is Gladys Parrett, who started working there in 1925 and still helps out. Another was Mrs. Elmer (Edna) Georgas.

Members of the family who have spent varying lengths of time in the store includes Mrs. Millard (Tilly) Chadwick, rural Greenwood; Mrs. Carl (Clara) Kessler, rural Neillsville; the late Mrs. Stanley (Leona) Battersby, Neillsville; Frank, who died in 1939, and of course, Henry and Leo.

Neither Henry nor Leo started working in the grocery and department store. Leo worked for a time at the J.B. Inderrieden Company, which canned beans and sauerkraut in the earlier quarter of the 1900’s, and Henry worked mostly for his father, cleaning the horse sheds and bartending. The cleaning duty was an important task, meticulously done because people at that time set great store on the cleanliness of their horse barns, stalls and stables.

One of Henry’s early jobs in the store, however, was candling and packing eggs for shipment to Chicago. In those early years, farmers brought eggs to town and traded them at the grocery store for food, or in the case of Wasserburger’s, for clothing and hard goods.

Henry recalls that he would candle as many as 170 to 175 dozen cases of eggs every week. They would be packed with excelsior (long, fine wood shavings) to lessen the danger of breaking the eggs enroute to Chicago. The cases also were strapped on both ends to prevent them from being torn apart in handling.

In those early days, too, many foodstuffs were handled in the bulk. There were very few canned goods, and almost no packaged goods, in a grocery store. The Wasserburger store had its cracker barrel, like other groceries of the era, along with barrels of salted fish, pickles, sauerkraut, molasses and vinegar. It had bins of beans (three kinds, northern, Peewee and navy), three kinds of rice; four kinds of coffee; oatmeal; brown sugar, etc.

Charles Jr., who stared the business with Katie, went into the army and was killed in France in WW I. And for Katie, the store, was her life. At the time she went into the business, she was going with a young man, and it was generally expected among their friends -if and by Katie- that they would marry. But when the opportunity of becoming involved in a store opened, that resolved Katie’s future.

Merchandising Skills: During the Great Depression, and before; the Wasserburger’s helped farmers and others who were having a rough time financially. There were many people in that category back in those days, and it was nothing to be ashamed of. There is a large, Black metal file at the back of the store today which Gladys Parrett says is filled with bills people owe and which never will be collected. Many of them belong to people (and we did not find the rest of the story, in this issue. Dmk) By: Robert Harvey, editor.



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