Addressing key needs

Waupaca gains new department store, Shawano adds more housing

Posted on Jun 1, 2021 :: Economic Development
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

The City of Waupaca has been without a department store since Shopko closed all its stores in 2019. That’s about to change.

Everyday Hometown, a family-run, one-of-a-kind department store, is taking over the vacant Shopko building. The store got its start when store manager Brianna Becker’s dad was looking for a place to open a small hardware store, similar to one he had in their hometown of Monroe. He looked at the Shopko building and talked with the chain he wanted to carry, United Hardware.

“We saw they carry a lot more than hardware and there was such a need in the community for a store with housewares, pet goods, lawn care items and more since Waupaca’s Kmart and Shopko closed,” Becker says.

In addition to carrying products from United Hardware — “they have a bit of everything,” Becker says — the store also will sell Ashley Furniture and some clothing and shoes. Right now, the store is adding inventory to its shelves and plans to hire 25 employees once the store is up and running full time.

“Due to supply chain issues, we haven’t gotten everything we want yet,” Becker says.

The store’s garden center opened in May as those products began coming in from vendors. “The community has been really welcoming. This is something they’ve needed for a couple of years,” Becker says.

Terri Schulz, president of the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce, agrees Everyday Hometown fills a vital role. “When Kmart closed after Shopko closed, there were suddenly things you couldn’t find in our community,” she says. “Everyday Hometown really fills a key need.”

Housing crunch

Shawano County, like many other counties in Northeast Wisconsin, doesn’t have enough housing for everyone who wants to live there. New hires often have to live outside of the county, which prevents them from putting down roots in the community.

“If you’re a teacher in Wittenberg and you need to live in Wausau, after a few years, you eventually find a job teaching at D.C. Everest since you become tired of the drive,” says Peter Thillman, chief economic development officer for Shawano County Economic Progress Inc.

A project by S.C. Swiderski of Mosinee will fill some of that need with a new three-building complex at the intersection of Engel Drive and South Waukechon Street in Shawano.

“We’ve been interested in Shawano for some time. We could see the need for apartments there and are excited to get this project started,” says Jacqui Miller, director of business development for S.C. Swiderski LLC. “We already have a list of people who are interested.”

S.C. Swiderski will build 200 apartments with a variety of one-, two- and three-bedroom options, including four six-unit, single-story apartment buildings with two-car garages; four 20-unit, two-story apartment buildings with detached garages; and six 16-unit, two-story apartments with attached garages. Every unit will have private entrances with heat, water, cable and internet included in the rent.

“The apartments are at a variety of price points and we have multiple layouts to serve as many people as possible,” Miller says. “Shawano had a shortage of apartments, with some people working there but not being able to find a place to live. We hope to help people live and work in Shawano.”

SCEPI has sent out a request for proposals for a countywide housing study to determine the true need in the area and develop a plan for addressing it, Thillman says.

“We hope to have it done by the end of the summer so we can do some targeted projects,” he says. “There is such a need. A builder told me the minute they pour the foundation on a spec home, it’s sold. We definitely have experienced record-high home sales.”

Bouncing back

According to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, Shawano and Waupaca counties saw their tourism numbers drop between 21 and 30 percent in 2020. Both counties saw the number of tourists staying in hotel rooms decline last summer due to the pandemic, but officials are optimistic they’ll be back to pre-pandemic levels this year.

Schulz says this summer should be a lot busier in Waupaca County based on the number of calls and requests the chamber is receiving — it also functions as the county’s convention and visitors bureau.

“Last year wasn’t horrible. We had a lot of cabins on the lakes that were booked where families could go away together, but the hotels suffered,” Schulz says. “This year, we anticipate hotel numbers being back up.”

Tourists in Waupaca will need to get around construction along Main Street to visit retailers and restaurants, Schulz says. 

“For some places, coming off the pandemic and now making it hard to get to your place, it’s really hard, but the community is doing our best to support them so they’ll still be there after the construction is done,” she says, adding some businesses received grants from the city for façade or interior improvements.

Thousands of tourists travel each year to Shawano County for its outdoor activities, and while resorts did well in 2020, hotels didn’t fare as well. Thillman hopes this year will be different.

“We expect lots of visitors, whether they are boating, biking or riding their ATVs, and think people will begin staying in hotels again,” he says. “A lot of people purchased recreational items, like kayaks or bikes, and they want to get out and keep using them.”