By Keta Steebs
Herman and Marcheta Steebs opened Herman’s Market the week before Christmas, 1956, after long weeks of scrubbing, painting, stocking shelves and praying for a good turnout at our grand opening A half page ad announcing the event had already been picked up by the genial John Kopitzke, owner of the Door Reminder, who by buying a nickel candy bar had inadvertently become our first customer.
John seemed as impressed as we were by the huge plywood Santa Claus-Sleigh cutout my brother-in-law Wesley Landstrom, had made and decorated free of charge. Wes had just finished mounting it on our roof the day John called. He created such an outstanding work of art the Lions Club awarded it its $25 second prize.
Opening night saw our first employee, Harriet “Sis” Seaquist manning the checkout, yours truly helping Herman at the meat counter and gobs of customers jamming our aisles. The event was an unqualified success.
Our suppliers, the Plumb & Nelson Company of Manitowoc, Mrs. Karl’s Bakery, Pleck Dairy, Dick Brothers Bakery, Fairmont Ice Cream and two Green Bay produce companies all chipped in with prizes, adding a bit of fillip to the occasion. Although our little store only had three aisles, we were able to carry something of everything. Space on the bread rack—limited as it was—was fought over daily by our competing bread men: Dale Seiler of Mrs. Karl’and Gene Kasten of Dick Brothers.
Herman’s Market prided itself on its meat and, to justify that claim, Herman bought nothing but the best, using the oldest, least popular cuts for our personal use. Equipped with frying pan, slow cooker and Nesco roaster, Herman made such savory, good smelling meals, our morning regulars—Wes Staver, Alma Bunda, Emma Pahl and Joe D’Louey—would copy his recipes and have the same meal themselves. One Ellison Bay couple, she thrifty; he not, drove in every other day to see what was cooking. While she shopped for the basics, he loaded his cart with gourmet foods and choice steaks.
Our meat first got a taste of the limelight when I decided to walk in the Fall Festival parade leading Ed Koessl’s cow (proclaiming “The Only Meat Fresher than Herman’s”) down Main Street. The cow showed her disapproval by stepping on my foot, laying me low for days. That same year, 1957, was the year our good friends Rita and Earl Willems opened their bowling alley, encouraging every business in the area to sponsor teams. Thanks to my bad foot, Herman’s Market was in the cellar all year.
But everything else was coming up roses. In 1962, in order to do needed remodeling we bought—rather than continue to rent—that homely little concrete building from owner Anna Peterson, who, with her niece, Eunice, had once used it as a tea room. Before then—between the time Harman’s Market opened and Earl Willems bought a Rotisserie to serve roast chicken to his growing number of bowlers, a major event took place. Ellsworth “Andy” Anderson, owner of Masterfreeze, a freezer-cooler operation, moved his factory directly across the street. Were we ever happy! Not only did business pick up, Andy and Herman worked out a deal trading groceries for a new walk-in freezer-coolers, which, to my knowledge, may still be there.
Life was full and rich in those still young years but, by 1968, the handwriting was on the wall. Blessed by then with two young sons but burdened with an unprofitable business (chains could sell cheaper than we could buy) we got out while the going was good. And, to all the able women and ambitious stock boys who worked for us those 12 memorable years I can only say, “Thanks for the memories.”