Doing Business, Preserving History – Waupaca County Post
WJ Doran in Waupaca has a new owner
By James Card
A downtown landmark store has a new owner.
Luke Schwiesow is the owner of WJDoran, the plumbing and hardware store at 225 Jefferson Street. He took over the business from Wally Doran, who will be 91 in September.
Doran has managed the business since 1964 and the furnishings reflect this: plumbing items are stowed in floor-to-ceiling drawers and the top ones are accessed via a roller ladder like those found in old libraries. The wooden floor creaks from a bygone era and some items are housed in antique display cases made of glass and wood.
Founded in 1882, the company was formerly known as AM Hansen Machine Hall and Shops. The building with the wide shop window front was erected in 1907.
Schwiesow has been cleaning up clutter for over half a century and finding artifacts along the way.
Shopping through history
“We have stuff here from companies and other people over the years. I have old hotel signs from the original hotel over here.
Original barber signs. I have many items that are not relevant to the store but are part of the Waupaca history, I have given them to the historical society. I found a flyer for a city government in the 80s. Wally would just shovel that stuff into the desk,” Schwiesow said, waving to a couple of wooden desks that have been in use since the company’s inception.
He plans to refurbish the original brass fittings on the storefront and also put up awnings that match a picture of the store found on an old letterhead.
“I’m going to repaint the front and put it back the way it used to look. The brick hasn’t been painted so I’ll scrub off the old paint. I don’t know exactly what the building used to look like because all the old photos are black and white, but some of the old moldings are painted industrial green, which was prevalent at the time,” Schwiesow said.
“I’m not really going to change anything about the building. I’m just going to refresh it so it lasts another hundred years. We’re licensed for the state and federal historical registry, so I have to do the paperwork for that,” Schwiesow said.
He remodels the cash desk and restores some signs that once served as shelves. In addition to consolidating loose parts that have been misplaced over the years, Schwiesow is adding a new line of high-end Wolverine brass fasteners and plans to restock Stanley tools. The store still has the largest selection of V-belts in town and they cover an entire wall. Plumbing parts are fully stocked, along with heating, ventilation and wood stove materials and PVC piping. They sell well pumps and sand and stone tips.
Old school metal
Schwiesow joined the forge in 2006. His father knew that there was another forge in the basement of the Doran building. Doran made a deal with him: if you can make it work, you can use it. Schwiesow taught himself the lost art of forging and also studied welding at Fox Valley Technical College while helping Doran in his shop.
As Doran got older, it became harder to keep up with his business. Schwiesow was a natural successor and formally took over the business on May 12 of this year.
]Upstairs on the ground floor is the office and retail space, but the real work is done in the basement. Schwiesow performs welding repairs, soldering, pipe tapping and cutting, and metal fabrication and modifications. He also does custom ironwork in the old “Forge”.
“When I first got here, there were sellslips until the 1960s, when the last ironwork order came in before I took over,” he said.
Three original machines are still in use: a machine drill, a horizontal milling machine and a lathe are driven by a vertical shaft. When switched on, huge belts spin near the ceiling and the machines come to life.
Schwiesow is still tinkering with the antique devices. “Wally taught me some things so I know some basics. He never seemed too confident about teaching me, so he would often give me the book he was learning from,” Schwiesow said.
Some of the machines are so old that he describes machines from the 1940s and 1950s as “new”.
Also in the basement is the frame of a Maxwell touring car from 1913. Schwiesow calls it his “madness” and wants to restore it. But there is another historical connection: in the neighboring building, where Loot Vintage & Supply is located, Maxwell cars were once sold. Once upon a time there was a car dealership.
Schwiesow has studied registers of Maxwells on microfiche and interviewed AM Hansen’s granddaughter about the history of the car in the basement.
WJDoran is open Monday through Friday from 7:00am to 5:00pm and Saturday from 7:00am to 12:00pm.
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