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HOM owners buy Eau Claire Younkers store

A Minnesota-based furniture retailer recently bought the vacant Younkers attached to Oakwood Mall, but its plans for the large store are not yet known.

HOM Furniture paid $2 million in late January to buy the store at 4850 Golf Road from the bankrupt parent company of Younkers, according to records filed in the Eau Claire County Register of Deeds office.

HOM’s CEO Rod Johansen said that those with a common ownership with HOM Furniture bought the Eau Claire Younkers store as an investment, but couldn’t yet disclose future plans for it.

“At this time we don’t have any information that we can share on how they are planning to use the property or if it is just an investment property,” Johansen said in an email to the Leader-Telegram.

He noted the ownership group owns many commercial properties that they lease to outside entities.

Local land records show the store’s new owner is KKMBA Eau Claire LLC, a company formed in January with its principal offices listed as HOM Furniture’s headquarters in Coon Rapids, Minn.

Johansen signed papers approving the purchase of the building, which was sold off under the signature of Michael Culhane, CFO and executive vice president of Bon-Ton Stores, parent company of Younkers.

HOM has an Eau Claire store about a mile away from Oakwood Mall at 2921 Mall Drive. The furniture company leases that store from Texas-based real estate investment firm Spirit Realty Capital, which has owned the building since April 2005, according to an inventory of the major retail landlord’s properties in a recent SEC filing.

The current HOM store is 93,620 square feet while the former Younkers has 105,255 square feet of floor space, according to online Eau Claire city property records.

HOM’s owners also bought another defunct Younkers this winter in Wisconsin. In December, the company announced it had acquired a defunct Younkers in Wausau’s mall to expand HOM’s reach in the state.

That store — HOM Furniture’s 17th location — will open in the Wausau Center Mall during the second quarter of this year, according to an announcement on the company’s website.

HOM had previously proposed to Wausau’s Redevelopment Authority to acquire a defunct Sears building in the same mall in October 2016, based on information on that city’s website.

In its overture to Wausau, HOM noted at the time that it’s a well-capitalized company and owns 2.5 million square feet of the 3 million square feet that its stores occupy, meaning it doesn’t lease much property.

In addition to its main HOM Furniture brand, the retailer also owns Gabberts Fine Furniture and Design Studio as well as discount furniture outlets called DOCK 86.

At Oakwood Mall, there is another anchor store out of the five attached to the regional shopping center that is also currently empty.

Sears closed its Eau Claire location last year and the future for that large store is not yet known.

Betsy Maher, the mall’s general manager, said in an email that there are currently no updates she can share with the public on a new tenant for the Sears location or other storefronts in the mall.


Front-page
featured
Thorp cheesemaker scores another award for her gouda

Marieke Penterman said she never takes for granted all the accolades and awards she has won for her gouda cheese.

Penterman, who operates Marieka Gouda in Thorp, claimed both first and second runner-up positions in the 2019 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest recently in Green Bay. She won the 2013 competition, but also was runner up in 2011, 2017 and 2018.

“It’s like winning the jackpot,” Penterman said Friday. “But this is so much more. It’s great recognition, from specialists in the industry.”

Penterman said she is always surprised when she wins.

“Every year, there are more competitors, and the competition gets tougher,” she said. “I have an amazing respect for the judges.”

A record-setting 2,555 cheese entries from 35 states were evaluated during the two-day competition at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, according to a Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association press release. A team of 60 nationally-renowned judges hailing from 20 states considered each entry’s flavor, body and texture, salt, color, finish, and appearance, scoring entries on a 100-point scale.

Marieke Gouda was featured on CBS Sunday Morning two weeks ago, and Penterman said it had an immediate impact on her business.

“Within 48 hours, we had more online orders than all of 2018,” she said. “We had orders from across the United States. It was just unbelievable.”

Penterman said business has been strong, with between 150,000 and 160,000 visitors annually to her cheese-making facility on the south side of Thorp. She said those visitors lead to about 35 percent of her sales in the shop.

Penterman makes about two dozen different varieties of gouda.“We only make gouda, and a little bit of cheese curds,” she said. “They are all raw milk cheeses, and they are all straight from the cows. Within five hours of coming from the cow, it’s made into cheese.”

In the plant’s aging room, all cheeses are stored for at least 60 days, in a cool environment between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

On any given day, there are 4,000 wheels of cheese, each weighing about 20 pounds. Penterman said they all must be flipped at least once each week. A wheel of cheese would sell for between $150 and $200, depending on its actual weight, age and flavor, she said.

The ribbons for all the contests hang in the shop for customers to see.

Marieke and her husband, Rolf, are natives of the Netherlands and grew up on farms there. She operated the gouda store as Holland Family Cheese on a farm southeast of Thorp for six years before she moved to their current location in 2013, wanting the visibility along Highway 29.

Thorp officials gave them a conditional use permit to have up to 435 cows on their 100-acre parcel in city limits, although it’s not in a residential area.


State
APfeatured
Evers won't force wedding barns to get liquor licenses

MADISON (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers’ administration won’t force wedding barns to obtain liquor licenses, his spokeswoman said Friday in a move that could defuse a lawsuit seeking to force state regulators to leave barn operators alone.

Former Attorney General Brad Schimel threw wedding barns’ future into question in November when he issued an informal opinion saying private events held in public spaces require liquor licenses. State law prohibits owners of public places from allowing alcohol without a license. But the statutes don’t define a public place.

Two Wisconsin farmers who rent out their barns for weddings, including John Govin, who owns the Weddin’ Barn in rural Menomonie, filed a lawsuit in Dunn County in January seeking to ensure wedding barns don’t need to obtain liquor licenses, which can cost $10,000. They’re seeking a ruling that events on private property don’t require licenses.

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said in emails Friday that the state Department of Revenue hasn’t required wedding barns to get liquor licenses in the past and Evers doesn’t want to change that stance. She didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up email inquiring about the basis for Evers’ position.

The conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, or WILL, is representing the farmer in the lawsuit. The firm issued a statement Friday calling Evers’ declaring that it’s “heartened” that Evers won’t require wedding barns to get licenses. The statement stopped short of saying the farmers would drop the lawsuit, though.

“We trust that this matter will promptly be resolves in a manner that provides wedding barn owners and couples with the certainty that they can continue with their business and plans for special events,” the statement said.

Asked directly whether the farmers will drop the lawsuit, WILL spokesman Brian Reisinger provided a statement from WILL President Rick Esenberg, who said the firm will consult with the farmers on the next step and reach out to state attorneys to see “whether the matter can be put to rest.”

Republicans who control the state Legislature proposed a bill last session that would have required private property owners who rent out their space for an event to have a liquor license. The measure won support from the powerful Tavern League of Wisconsin.

The league has argued that wedding barns should compete under the same rules as bars and taverns.

The bill died in the state Senate after WILL complained the proposal could end tailgating. State Rep. Rob Swearingen, a past tavern league president and chairman of a special joint legislative committee studying alcohol enforcement, asked Schimel for his interpretation of statutes governing liquor licenses in public and private places.

Both Swearingen and Schimel are Republicans. Schimel issued his opinion on Nov. 16, just 10 days after he lost re-election.