A landmark of downtown Beaver Dam — the former St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store — will have new life now that Dale and Cassandra Schmidt have taken the property over and are refurbishing it.
At the closing on Aug. 30 what were four properties at 316 S. Spring St. were purchased as an income property and a new home for Cassandra Schmidt’s Modern Woodmen insurance office.
The new owners said they were attracted to the building because of its location.
“We believe the South Spring Street area is quickly growing and there is an exciting future for Beaver Dam in this area,” said Dale Schmidt. “Plans are ongoing as we work to prepare for renters. A face lift could include store front updates such as paint and new awnings to really improve the appearance of the building and to attract business. There will also be eventual updates to the rear of the building to improve access from the parking lot.”
The Schmidts plan to separate the space into three buildings again. Cassandra will be moving her downtown business, Modern Woodmen of America, from the 118 Front St. address into the south building at 324 S. Spring St. That move will take place in the next couple of months.
“I’m looking forward to moving into the larger space as I look to grow my business as a financial adviser,” said Cassie. “I am especially excited for the additional parking available there.”
The middle building, 320 S Spring St., is going to be the new home from Bullfrogs & Butterflies—Baby, Kids & Maternity Resale Store, which is currently located at 106 Front St. That business is targeted to open the first week of October.”
The north building, 316 S. Spring St, is currently available for rent.
The basement will be converted into indoor storage rental space.
A week ago some of the past and present employees held an open house to say farewell, and former store patrons and charity supporters were invited to attend. Among them were 30-year employee (retired) Lynn Zick, 15-year volunteer and council officer Jim Hafenstein, 15-year employee Jen Dobbratz, current store committee member Tom Heffron and current store manager Ben Nelson.
All remembered the faithful customers who stopped in the store to shop for essentials and/or bargains, pick up food bags or just say hello.
The local St. Vincent de Paul Society started in a garage in the late 1930s, and was largely associated with St. Peter’s Catholic Church and School. In those days the society collected money in a “poor box” at the entrance of the church and doled it out to those experiencing financial or other hardship. Money then paid for rooms at the Hotel Beaver ($2 a night), ordered coal for unheated homes, paid for eyeglasses for those who could not afford them and shared cheer and treats with the needy during holidays and home visits.
“According to our early minutes we even helped people purchase homes,” said Hafenstein. “They don’t say whether they were a loan or a gift, but it sure was amazing.”
In 1956 the society purchased the Deniger Grocery Store, next door to what was then Matlin’s Furniture Store.
“The store did well and provided whatever funds we needed,” said Zick. “We had very good sales and a lot of faithful customers. When I first started working here I asked if we had a budget, and the answer was no.”
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Two years later an adjacent lot was purchased, and eventually a former dry cleaning store was purchased as well.
In 1961, the society built a new section to connect the two storefronts. The new section included a large retail area upstairs and repair shop and storage below. A short time later a food pantry that began at First Lutheran Church was incorporated into the space.
The society also purchased the adjacent site of Schmidt’s Sinclair – a gas station which was demolished and excavated prior to being purchased.
As retail and other businesses opened on the edges of the city, the downtown thrift store suffered.
“As traffic decreased downtown we slowed down as well,” said Hafenstein. “We had been saving money to make a move, however, and eventually were able to purchase the property at 126 Dodge Drive. There we have the space to remain competitive and to house a much larger food pantry as well.”
The north side store opened in 2013, and has maintained St. Vincent de Paul’s commitment to serve the needs of the area regardless of religious affiliation.
Demographics at the thrift store, however, have changed.
“Before it was always the seniors and people who were a little short of money, but now it’s the younger people – in their 20s and 30s – who are trying to recycle and ‘go green,’” said Hafenstein.
After the new store was opened the old one served as a place to offer furniture and other large items — which will eventually be accommodated at the north side location.
Leaving the old site is bittersweet for those who share memories of the past.
“So many people came in and we got to know them and what they were looking for,” said Zick. “We were like a family.”
“Think of the thousands of customers who shopped here over the years or came here for help,” said Heffron. “We had a significant impact on downtown and among all the people we served.”
Nelson and the society, however, are eager to move ahead at the new location, and to continue to serve the community in whatever ways it may need in the future.
“It’s great that this area is being revamped,” said Nelson. “I look forward to see what this building will contribute to a downtown revival. Our new location will serve us best, and with the sale of this property we’ll become bigger and better there as well.”