Doing business, preserving history
W.J. Doran in Waupaca has new owner
By James Card
A business in a downtown landmark has a new owner.
Luke Schwiesow is the proprietor of W.J.Doran, the plumbing and hardware store on 225 Jefferson St. He took over the business from Wally Doran who will be 91 years old in September.
Doran ran the business since 1964 and the interior reflects it: plumbing parts are tucked in floor-to-ceiling cubbies and the upper ones are reached by a rolling ladder like the kind found in old libraries. The wooden floor creaks of a bygone era and some items are in antique glass-and-wood display cases.
Established in 1882, the business was formerly A.M. Hansen Machine Hall and Shops. The building with the broad, big-window storefront was built in 1907.
Schwiesow is tidying up over a half-century worth of clutter and finding artifacts along the way.
Shopping through history
“We’ve got stuff in here from businesses and other people throughout the years. I’ve got old hotel signs from the original hotel over here.
Original barber shop signs. I have lot of stuff that doesn’t have relevance to the shop but is part of Waupaca history, I’ve been taking it over to the historical society. I found a flyer for a town board back in the ‘80s. Wally would just shovel that stuff into the desk,” said Schwiesow as he waved to a couple wooden desks that have been in use since the founding of the business.
He plans to polish up the original brass hardware on the storefront and also put up awnings that match up with an image of the store found on an old letterhead.
“I will repaint the front and bring it back to what it used to look like. The brick wasn’t painted so I’m going to scrub off the old paint. I don’t know what the building used to exactly look like because all of the old photographs are in black and white but some of the old trim is painted industrial green which was prevalent from around that time,” said Schwiesow.
“I’m not going to really change anything on the building. I’m just going to freshen it up so it lasts for another hundred years. We’re eligible for the state and federal historical registry so I’ve got to get the paperwork done on that,” said Schwiesow.
He is rebuilding the cash register desk and refurbishing some signs that were once used as shelving. Besides consolidating loose parts misplaced over the years, Schwiesow is adding a new product line of high-end Wolverine brass fixtures and plans to restock Stanley tools. The store still has the biggest selection of V-belts in the city and they cover an entire wall. Plumbing parts are fully stocked, along with heating, ventilation and woodstove materials and PVC piping. They sell well pumps and sand and stone points.
Schwiesow got into blacksmithing in 2006. His father knew that a blacksmith shop was still in the basement of the Doran building. Doran cut a deal with him: if you can get it running you can use it. Schwiesow taught himself the lost art of blacksmithing and also studied welding at Fox Valley Technical College while helping out Doran at his store.
As Doran got older and it was harder to keep up with his business. Schwiesow was a natural successor and he formally took over the business on May 12 this year.
]Upstairs on the street-level floor is the office and retail area, but the real work gets done in the basement. Schwiesow does welding repairs, brazing, threading and cutting pipes, and metal fabrication and modifications. He also performs custom blacksmithing work in the old “smithy” room.
“When I came in here, there were sales slips up until the 1960s when the last order for forge work came in before I took over,” he said.
Three original machines are still in use: a machinist drill press, a horizontal milling machine and a lathe are powered by a line shaft. When turned on, huge belts spin near the ceiling and the machines hum to life.
Schwiesow is still figuring out the antique contraptions. “Wally taught me some things so I know some basics. He never seemed overly confident in teaching me so he often handed me the book that he learned from,” said Schwiesow.
Some of the machines are so old that he refers to machines from the 1940s and 1950s as “new.”
Also in the basement is the frame of a 1913 Maxwell touring car. Schwiesow calls it his “madness” and he intends to full restore it. But there is another historical connection: Maxwell cars were once sold in the next door building that is home to Loot Vintage & Supply. It was a car dealership at one time.
Schwiesow has studied registries of Maxwells on microfiche and interviewed the granddaughter of A.M. Hansen about the history of the car in the basement.
W.J.Doran is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday.