Wisconsin’s Quirky and Hardworking Family Business Owners

The Photo Blog
July 15 2014 11:00 AM

Wisconsin’s Quirky and Hardworking Family Business Owners

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Anderson Fishery, Gills Rock, Established 1941 by Alvin Anderson. At age 8, Alvin Anderson (right) was the first deckhand on this boat, the Alicia Rae. A generation later, his son Dan (left) slept in a net box on the boat while his parents worked. Dan returns every spring to fish with his father in the original boat.

Carl Corey

Carl Corey began meeting family business owners while documenting Wisconsin bars for his book, Tavern League: Portraits of Wisconsin Bars. Inspired by the experience, Corey decided to seek out family businesses all over Wisconsin, from hardware stores to bakeries to organ builders. Corey’s new book, For Love and Money: Portraits of Wisconsin Family Businesses, comprises portraits of single families who’ve owned their business for at least 50 years. “They're proud and they love what they do, but there’s no doubt that their lives are extremely difficult,” he said.

In the summer of 2011, Corey sent out about 200 emails to chambers of commerce in towns all across the state. He visited about 100 of the businesses that he found through those organizations over the next two years. In the process, he developed an appreciation for the strong work ethics of the owners and distinct specializations of each business. “Doesn't everybody like walking into a unique store that doesn't look like an Ikea? Like, ‘Wow, these guys sell table lamps.’ It's nice to find these entrepreneurs that do this,” he said.

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Sprecher’s Bar and Gun Shop, North Freedom, Established 1900 by Edwin Sprecher Sr. Junior Sprecher was born in the apartment attached to the rear of the bar and still lives there.

Carl Corey

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Drees Electric, Marinette, Established 1946 by Lawrence Drees. Repairman Bill Meyst remembers when TVs were repaired instead of being dumped in landfills.

Carl Corey

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T.H. Stemper Company, Milwaukee, Established 1911 by Thomas H. Stemper. The Stemper brothers—from left, John, Joe, Peter, Dan, and Jim—run the company their grandfather started in 1911.

Carl Corey

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Lauerman’s Home Furnishings, Marinette, Established 1890 by Joseph A.J. Lauerman and Frank Lauerman. Henry Lauerman Jr. (right) and his son, Scott, run the store.

Carl Corey

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Kroner Hardware, La Crosse, Established 1868 by Adam Kroner. Walter Marx is a floor man at Kroner’s. It's the only job he’s had since returning from World War II in 1947.

Carl Corey

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Satin Wave Beauty and Barber Shop, Milwaukee, Established circa 1955 by James Flipping. Ronnie Sherrill is proud of his Uncle Flip, who started Satin Wave.

Carl Corey

The stories Corey gathered along the way attest to the incredible histories of many of the businesses. At Anderson Fishery in Gills Rock, Corey photographed Alvin Anderson and his son Dan on the fishing boat, the Alicia Rae. As a baby, Dan slept on the boat while his parents worked, and he still returns every spring to fish with his father on that same boat. At Sprecher’s Bar and Gun Shop, which was established in 1900, Corey photographed Junior Sprecher. Sprecher had been born in the apartment attached to the bar and when Corey met him in his 90s, he was still living there.

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Of course, owning a family business can be tough, so much so that a lot of the children of have decided not to enter the business. A few of the owners Corey photographed knew that after they retired the business would cease to exist. “I didn't want the book to be more somber than celebratory, but I learned a lot about this and it did become more of a historical document than a social or cultural document because of the fact that these businesses are disappearing,” he said.

Corey’s work is on view in an exhibition at the Wisconsin Museum of Art until July 27.

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Globe House Furnishing, Marinette, Established 1888 by Tobias Kirmse. This photo was taken two weeks after the store’s liquidation auction in 2010. Mary McCarrier is seen here holding a portrait of her grandfather Tobias Kirmse.

Carl Corey

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Dick Bjerstedt’s Garage, River Falls, Established 1961 by Dick Bjerstedt. Dick Bjerstedt has a sign in his garage that reads, “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

Carl Corey

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Superior Lidgerwood Mundy, Superior, Established 1895 as Superior Iron Works by Frank Hayes. SLM makes hoists and cables for the marine industry. Machine lathe operator Brent is pictured on his last full day of work before retirement.

Carl Corey

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Gorgen Funeral Home, Mineral Point, Established 1916 by Phillip and Mary Gorgen. Greg Gorgen (center) and sons Grant and Mike run the business started by Greg’s grandparents. Mary Gorgen was one of the first licensed women funeral directors in Wisconsin.

Carl Corey

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Peoples Pharmacy, Superior, Established circa 1933 by John Olsen. Both owner Jeff Eliason (left) and employee Art Haugen are pharmacists.

Carl Corey

Jordan G. Teicher writes about photography for Slates Behold blog. Follow him on Twitter.