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.
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.
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“I didn't want the book to be more somber than celebratory, but I learned a lot about this and it did become more of a historical document than a social or cultural document because of the fact that these businesses are disappearing,” he said.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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