Business entrepreneurship has taken a bit of an odd twist in the Village of Gays Mills recently. New businesses are springing up in the 200 block of Main Street in repurposed spaces, rather than renting spaces in the largely vacant Gays Mills Mercantile Center or building in the accommodating Applewood Business Park.
It began with the Olde Towne Shoppe, which Betty Jennison opened in the former Gays Mills Public Library about a year ago. Jennison acquired the building from the village after the library was relocated to its new home in the Gays Mills Community Commerce Center on Highway 131.
“It’s going pretty good,” the shopkeeper said of her second season on Main Street.
Jennison opened her business after being retired for 14 years and looking for something to do. Her former job involved wholesale marketing and sales and there was a lot of traveling and meeting people. She missed the people contact. When the village decided to sell the former library, Jennison jumped at the opportunity to buy the building.
In addition to some collectables and resale items and her own unique crafted products, Jennison has begun selling items on consignment for some local people producing craft products.
The shop owner splits her time between a house she owns in Williams Bay, near Lake Geneva, and her other house in Soldiers Grove.
The Olde Towne Shoppe is centered on crafts, antiques and collectibles, according to Jennison. Her own craft products include custom-designed faces for clocks. In addition to her own designs, Jennison uses pictures brought in by customers to make unique clock faces.
Of course, plenty of the merchandise in the store, including the clocks, celebrate those popular themes, like the Packers, the Bears and “anything Harley Davidson.”
Jennison also sews products, including aprons for the store. There are some well-tailored doggie coats, as well..
“I’m still getting a feel for the market,” the shop owner explained. “I’ve never done retail before.”
Nevertheless, Jennison remains excited at the possibilities of selling her own and other products to customers from her repurposed library space at 205 Main Street next the Kickapoo Exchange Food Co-op.
Across the street, local resident Kay Smiley also repurposed a former village-used space, when she located her Make n Mend Shop in the former village clerk’s office on the second floor of the Gays Mills Community Building at 212 Main Street. Smiley opened in mid-November and has remained busy sewing things like aprons or mending things for people.
“I’ve been keeping busy and things are going real good right now,” Smiley said.
The patching and mending business never seems to end. From replacing zippers on jackets to patching jeans, there are always lots of things to do. Recently, Smiley even fixed a torn trampoline mat.
There are also alterations to dresses and hemming pants and dresses to keep her busy. When the mending business slows, Smiley turns to creating pillowcases, aprons and much more.
The active new business owner always seems to have something more to do. Smiley is also making some specialty items, like banners. She is planning on expanding her line of aprons and will be including local logos and sayings.
To combat the increasing Lyme disease threat, Smiley is designing some tick chaps to protect the wearers from contact with the deer ticks that carry Lyme disease.
Her regular hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday or by appointment. You can reach Make n Mend by phone at 608-317-7508.
Smiley calls the Make n Mend business “a new chapter in her life.” Needing a job, she decided to try sewing, which she has done for years, instead of putting her cleaning skills to work as a janitor at local factory or warehouse.
“I’ve done it for years,” Smiley said. In a society increasingly without homemaking skills, she may be getting into the right market at he right time.
Smiley wants her customers to know that she will be out of town from Thursday, June 26 through Tuesday, July 1. Make ‘n Mend will reopen for business on Wednesday, July 2.
The newest of the three businesses opening on Main Street is the Brewster Coffeehouse. Bob and Melanie Brewster with the help of their children have opened the business in the large multipurpose meeting room directly behind the food co-op’s store.
Bob is currently the co-manager of the Kickapoo Exchange Natural Foods Co-op, which is located at 209 Main Street.
The new coffee shop got off to a “soft start” this month and plans to be at full strength in July, when a grand opening is being planned.
“We believe Gays Mills could use an alternative sandwich shop serving pannini and club sandwiches, as well as offering specialty coffees,” Bob said. “There’s a need for something different.”
The Brewsters intend to offer espresso and espresso-based coffees, like cappuccino and latte.
These three new businesses with humble beginnings in repurposed spaces could be the start of something much larger in the economic recovery of Gays Mills.