Doing Business, Preserving History – Waupaca County Post

Luke Schwiesow is the new owner of WJ Doran, the famous plumbing and hardware store in downtown Waupaca. The business and the building are steeped in local history and he aims to preserve them. Photo by James Card

WJ Doran in Waupaca has a new owner

By James Card

A business located in a downtown landmark has a new owner.

Luke Schwiesow is the owner of WJDoran, the plumbing and hardware store located at 225 Jefferson Street. He took over the business from Wally Doran, who turns 91 in September.

Doran had run the business since 1964 and the interior reflects that: the plumbing items are stored in floor-to-ceiling compartments and the upper items are accessed by a rolling ladder like the ones found in older libraries. The wooden floors creak from a bygone era and some items are in antique glass and wood display cases.

Founded in 1882, the company was formerly AM Hansen Machine Hall and Shops. The building with a wide frontage and large windows was built in 1907.

Schwiesow tidies up over half a century of clutter and finds 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 here.

Original hair salon signs. I have many things that have no relation to the shop but are part of Waupaca history, I passed them on to the historical society. I found a flyer for a city council back in the ’80s. Wally was just shoveling this stuff in the office,” Schwiesow said, waving at a few wooden desks that had been used since the company was founded.

He plans to polish the original brass hardware on the storefront and put up awnings that match an image of the store found on an old letterhead.

“I’m going to repaint the facade and bring it back to what it looked like. The brick wasn’t painted so I’m going to scrub off the old paint. I don’t know what the building looked like exactly because all the old photographs are black and white, but some of the old trim is painted in the industrial green that was prevalent at that 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 are eligible for state and federal historical registry, so I have to do the paperwork on that,” Schwiesow said.

He is rebuilding the cash register counter and renovating some signs that once served as shelves. In addition to consolidating misplaced parts 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 town and they cover an entire wall. Plumbing parts are fully stocked, as well as heating, ventilation and woodstove materials and PVC piping. They sell well pumps and sand and stone spikes.

old fashioned metal

Schwiesow got into blacksmithing in 2006. His father knew there was still a blacksmith 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 blacksmithing and also studied welding at Fox Valley Technical College while helping Doran in his shop.

As Doran got older, it became more difficult to keep up with his business. Schwiesow was a natural successor and he officially took over the business on May 12 of this year.

]Upstairs on the ground floor are the offices and retail area, but the real work is done in the basement. Schwiesow performs welding repairs, brazing, pipe threading and cutting, as well as metal fabrication and alterations. He also does custom forging work in the old “forge” room.
“When I came here there were sales slips until the 1960s when the last order for blacksmithing 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 driven by a transmission shaft. When turned on, huge belts spin near the ceiling and the machines hum.

Schwiesow is still discovering the ancient contraptions. “Wally taught me some things, so I know some basics. He never seemed too confident to teach me, so he would often hand me the book he learned from,” Schwiesow said.

Some of the machines are so old that he calls machines from the 1940s and 1950s “new”.

Also in the basement is the chassis of a 1913 Maxwell touring car. Schwiesow calls it his “folly” and he intends to completely restore it. But there’s another historical connection: Maxwell cars were once sold in the nearby building that houses Loot Vintage & Supply. He was a car dealer once.

Schwiesow studied Maxwell’s microfiche records and questioned AM Hansen’s granddaughter about the history of the car in the basement.

WJDoran is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday.

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