March Lambrecht began his upholstery career 40 years ago.
“I messed up a cushion on my couch and my dad (fixed) it,” Lambrecht said. “He told me ‘You’re going to do it yourself, you’re going to buy the fabric and I’ll show you how to do it.’”
Upholstery ran in Lambrecht’s family. His father was a professional and his uncle ran a shop in the area.
After serving in the Air Force for five years and driving a truck for 15, Lambrecht followed in his family’s footsteps and opened Exquisite Upholstery in Reedsburg.
“Me and my brother opened it up in ‘98,” Lambrecht said. “I already had a bunch of clients because my uncle was doing it in Baraboo and I took over the business.”
Lambrecht said one thing kept him in business over the years: perseverance.
“It’s hard work, It’s not easy to do,” Lambrecht said. “People just starting out don’t know what it entails. They don’t know there’s millions of staples to pull out, or tacks, or whatever. You have to have math skills, you have to have some fabrication skills, you’ve got to know how to take things apart and put it back together.”
For Lambrecht, there is meaningful work in extending the life of a piece of furniture and the memories associated with it.
Becoming an art
“I love doing it, It’s an art to me,” Lambrecht said. “Kitchen chairs, couches, chairs, loveseats, cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, snowmobiles; you name it, I’ve done it.”
Lambrecht even once upholstered a chair with giraffe hide for a client.
As the years have gone on, some types of work have gotten more challenging.
“The newer cars, they’re hard,” Lambrecht said. “Everything is done by computer now, so when I take it apart I’ve got to figure out how to do it right.”
As fewer upholstery stores have stayed in business over the years, Lambrecht has begun to consider teaching others the trade.
“I’m getting that age now, where in five years I might sell the business,” Lambrecht said.
Upholstery is not alone in that there are fewer local options for consumers than there used to be.
Coming to bloom
In Wisconsin Dells, Thompson’s Full Bloom offers the flower shop experience that used to be commonplace.
“Even tiny towns would have flower shops, and now they don’t,” said Thompson’s Full Bloom Owner Maria Rosholt. “It’s so much easier to buy flowers from so many places. You can go to the gas station and buy flowers, you can go to the grocery store and buy flowers, you can go to Walmart and buy flowers (but) the quality of the flowers you’re getting at those locations is different than the quality you’re getting from a florist… we know how to take care of them, we know how to handle them.”
Flower shops have always been a part of Rosholt’s life.
“My aunt owned a flower shop in Lodi,” Rolsholt said. “I worked for her when I was in high school and kind of got the bug out of that and always stuck with it.”
She also worked with flowers in Sauk Prairie, Reedsburg and Madison.
“My favorite part is the creativity that I get to have while I do this,” Rosholt said. “I’ve done a lot of jobs where it was a lot of sitting at a desk or counting money or that sort of thing. I like having the creative outlet, I like being able to make things for people and make them happy.”
Rosholt said flower shops have had to adapt to changing times in order to stay in business.
“Now you have to be open so much longer to catch people after they come home from work or before they go to work,” Rosholt said. “We’re always one or two seasons ahead. When I have to think about Christmas, it’s like July. I have to think of that stuff way before anyone wants it.”
Planning ahead is part of the job, but so is doing work on the fly.
“There’s a lot of last minute things we have to do,” Rosholt said. “I can plan ahead to some extent for certain things (but) no matter what you plan on doing over the course of the day, you know at some point you’re just going to have to stop that and take care of something else.”
Bringing the meat
In Sauk Prairie, Wyttenbach Meats Owner Ginny Wyttenbach’s family has been involved with beef and pork production for over 60 years.
As local butcher shops have become rarer, Wyttenbach said pricing is the main challenge.
“Probably the number one thing is price,” Wyttenbach said. “You can get meat for less than here, and we know that. But our emphasis is on quality. I like to tell people you get what you pay for… sometimes when you get a prepackaged meat, there’s water added.”
Wyttenbach owns the farms much of the meat product comes from, which is reassuring to some consumers, but it doesn’t make the job as easy as some would think.
“I think there’s a misconception that because we have the farm and we have (the meat shop) here, that we’re cutting out the middle man, but we still have to give a competitive price on the farm or that business is in jeopardy,” Wyttenbach said. “It’s hard to sustain any small business because (of what) we’re competing against.”
But Wyttenbach’s commitment to quality has won them loyal customers over the years. “We have customers locally and a little more far reaching,” Wyttenbach said. “We have customers from Madison who come here because they know they can get a consistently good product and a fresh product.”
Consumers’ growing concern about food quality has also pushed them back towards local butcher shops.
“We have a meat inspector in our business five days a week and we’re open six,” Wyttenbach said. “There are many, many regulations that are in place for the consumer. And a grocery store doesn’t have that… we’re really not the same even though you can get meat there and you can get meat here.”
Wyttenbach’s can also offer a kind of personalized service that can be difficult to replicate in a large grocery store. The shop will take custom orders if given enough time to prepare.
In Baraboo, the Village Booksmith has used their personalized services to stay in business even as the only other bookstore in town, Book World, closed permanently last year, making the Booksmith the only bookstore in the region.
“We can offer individualized personal service and really know our clientele on a one-to-one basis,” said Village Booksmith Owner Rob Nelson. “I think data shows that independent bookstores have done pretty well.”
Nelson said the idea that running a bookstore means sitting around reading books all day is not the reality of the job.
For those looking to go into the bookstore business, Nelson said he recommends gaining a good understanding of small business management. “Have both eyes open and have a solid grasp of small business management, in addition to a good knowledge of books,” Nelson said.
“Used books has always been sort of our bread and butter,” Nelson said. “That’s the majority of our inventory. We had a good relationship with Book World around the corner, they would handle new books and we would handle used books and we’d send customers back and forth depending on what they were looking for.”
When Book World closed, the Village Booksmith adapted accordingly so local consumers would still be able to find what they were looking for. The store added a section for new books and magazines so customers could find current titles.
Now customers can experience a truly diverse selection. “The benefit of a brick and mortar bookstore is you may come in looking for a specific title and discover that there’s 10 or 15 other titles similar to what you were looking for that you didn’t even know existed,” Nelson said.
In Mauston, Games For Us Owner Jayson Brollini said offering a diverse selection of products and services has helped the video game store stay in business.
“We’ve diversified,” Brollini said. “As times have changed with video games, there’s a lot of downloadable content, and we’ve started offering more events (like) birthday parties, other than just video games we sell Magic (the Gathering cards).”
Games For Us also keeps stock of Japanese sodas and snacks hard to find elsewhere, and Brollini offers repair services for game consoles and other small electronics.
Brollini added a dedicated game room recently to host parties and card games.
Creating not just a place to buy and play games, but a social atmosphere for people with shared interests has helped Games For Us cultivate a sense of community.
“They come here to play and socialize,” Brollini said. “I think this is a safe haven for them, they’re comfortable coming here.”
Whether it be upholstery, flowers, meats, books or video games, dedicated small business owners in the area will continue to offer consumers products they love and personalized service hard to find elsewhere.