TWO RIVERS, Wis. (WBAY) – A family-owned business marks a milestone this year few businesses ever achieve. Schroeder’s Department Store in Two Rivers is celebrating its 125th anniversary.
When sisters AJ Schroeder and Theresa Kronforst became the fourth generation to take over the family business in 2008, there was just a bit of pressure and it had nothing to do with the Great Recession in full swing.
“If it doesn’t work out you’re now letting down your father, and your grandfather, oh and his father, oh and then his father,” says Kronforst.
Founded in 1891 by four brothers, Schroeder’s Department Store passed on from generation to generation as the decades rolled by.
Some of AJ’s and Theresa’s fondest memories are from the store, cleaning and helping customers.
“I remember coming to work every day. We would have to do our homework first and then we could play. We called it playing, which is insane — we didn’t play house as kids, we played store,” says Schroeder.
And they witnessed their father’s love for the family business.
“He very strongly believes in family and he very strongly believes in Two Rivers,” says Kronforst, “and he wasn’t supposed to do this. He was going to school, in college in Madison to be a pharmacist, and one holiday season he watched It’s A Wonderful Life and he said, ‘You know what, I don’t need to do this anymore,’ and he came home.”
“My dad always said you’re never going to get rich doing this job, but you’re going to be rich in so many other ways,” adds Schroeder.
While the vast majority of old-fashioned department stores have fallen to the competition of big box retailers and mega malls, Schroeder’s has weathered all storms.
Those in the community don’t lose sight of their Two Rivers treasure.
“It’s nostalgic, yet with an amazing inventory and a level of service that frankly you’re not accustomed to getting in retail these days. You can pick up a sport coat or suit here and have it altered and ready for an event two days out. That’s unheard of,” says Two Rivers City Manager Greg Buckley.
“Those customers coming in are part of our family, they’re not a credit card number to us, they’re what make the fabric of this work,” adds Schroeder.
Already this summer, a fifth generation started learning the ropes, including AJ’s son.
“He gave one customer 50-percent off of an item so I had to reel him in and say, ‘Hey listen, buddy, you’re a shareholder, you need to think of the bottom line,,” says Schroeder with a chuckle.
Guiding the future, honoring the past and carrying on a family’s legacy.
“I mean, they made it through the Great Depression. You think about all the milestones that happened in the 125 years and it really shows a lot of persistence and I think a lot of character for the family to be able to stick through and stay with it,” says Kronforst.
Schroeder’s Department Store is also home to a coffee shop, a quilt shop and a toy store.