A longtime feature of the Churchill Street retail district will soon be shutting its doors.
Gene Gabrysiak, the owner of the Waupaca Family Center, is retiring and his clothing store will close within the next two months.
“I’m 70 years old and I’ve been working seven days a week since I was 20,” Gabrysiak said. “It’s time to slow down.”
He also noted that his health has not been the best and he has received two hip replacements in the past four years.
The Waupaca Family Center sells men’s and women’s clothing, shoes and accessories. It’s inventory includes work clothes, jeans, suits and ties, shirts and blouses, fabric bolts and yarn.
Gabrysiak owns two other stores, Mr. G’s Shoes and Clothing, in Veroqua and Richland Center. While the other stores are both less than 30 miles away from his home in Viola, where Gabrysiak also serves as the village president, he said the Waupaca store is a six-hour round trip.
Gabrysiak began his career as a high school English and speech teacher. In August 1969, he bought his first store.
“While I was in college, I worked at a shoe store that was supplied by a company out of Milwaukee,” Gabrysiak said. “They asked me if I would be interested in opening a store in Richland Center.”
Over time, Gabrysiak expanded his product line to include clothing as well as shoes.
He continued to teach until 1975 when he opened his second store in Viroqua.
In 1988, Gabrysiak purchased the Waupaca Family Center.
“Leo McSherry was a good friend of mine and he had owned this store for ages,” Gabrysiak recalled. “He asked if I wanted to purchase the store from him.”
Gabrysiak said he has been coming to the Waupaca Family Center once or twice a week, but he has relied primarily on his four local employees to run the store.
“They are very dedicated people,” Gabrysiak said. “One of the hardest parts of retiring has been informing the workers that we would be closing.”
Gabrysiak said he is not planning to sell the business and is trying to liquidate his inventory at significantly reduced prices.
“It’s very hard to sell a business, today. People can’t get the financing, for the most part,” Gabrysiak said. “Banks don’t like to finance inventory.”
He has placed the 5,300-square-foot building on the market.
Looking back over his long career in retail clothing, Gabrysiak said one of his biggest challenges has been Walmart. The giant discount chain opened outlets next door to his clothing stores in Richland Center and Viroqua.
“When they came to the area, they drove a lot of stores out of business, but we were able to thrive and prosper,” Gabrysiak said. “You’ll never win if you go head-on, item-for-item with Walmart because they’re so huge. You have to offer better quality products and better service.”