A long-ago store in Egg Harbor
It’s one of those little stores that went on for decades. The grocery stores in Egg Harbor that long-timers seem to remember best were Trodahl’s and Witalison’s – and actually, they were the same store. In addition, there were two owners before Marvin and Agnes Trodahl, two between the Trodahls and Art Witalison, and one after Witalison before it ceased being a grocery business.
Charles and Delia LaRouche built the shop in Egg Harbor in 1885. The beautiful, pressed-tin ceiling in the new store came from the original Catholic church in Egg Harbor after Charles donated the land for the new church. The store, in fact, was built to fit the ceiling.
The LaRouches rented it to Lester Olson until the Trodahls purchased it in 1939 and opened an IGA Store, with the post office in the north end. In 1954, Marvin built a small building north of the store for the post office.
Myles Dannhausen Sr. went to work for Marvin Trodahl when Dannhausen was 14. Trodahl was a butcher whose aged beef was so prized that people took it home with them after vacation. At that time, just the center portion of the building was used as a store, but Trodahl later built an addition on the south to expand the store and lived in an attached home on the north end.
“Trodahl’s,” Dannhausen said, “had everything you needed and not much you didn’t.”
Egg Harbor’s first post office was in the Trodahls’ home in the north wing, and when you went to the post office, where Marcelle Gueseman was the postmistress, you could hear chickens cheeping next door.
A number of alumni of Egg Harbor School #1 who attended a reunion a few years ago had memories of Trodahl’s. Arlene Gerlach Hovel remembered that she loved running to the grocery after lunch to buy a bag of candy for a quarter. And several people recalled the delicious meals that Mildred Leimbach prepared for 40 students on a wood-fired cookstove. She purchased ingredients from Trodahl’s for almost everything she cooked, including 15 loaves of bread every week, started at home and baked at school.
The Trodahls sold the business in 1963 to Frank Schneider, who called it the Big S. He loved the business and the customers, but he was so stressed that his doctor urged him to sell. Gene and Helen Standard owned it from 1970 to 1975.
Marietta Tank spent many years clerking for the Standards and remembered the store as a very popular, pleasant place to work – unpacking and shelving stock, and waiting on the many customers. All the clerks were able to cut fresh meat to order. As with other stores of the day, the Standards allowed many local customers to “run a bill,” keeping an account book for each family and filing them upright in a special slotted drawer. Tank also recalled a break-in at the store one night when the Standards were on vacation. The thieves broke in through the back door and filled two garbage bags, mostly with cigarettes, but didn’t get away with them. They were never caught.
Arthur and June Witalison owned Witalison’s Market from 1972 until the late 1980s. Art was a school principal and teacher in Portage and DeForest, Wisconsin, and June worked with special-needs students, concluding her teaching career in the Gibraltar District. They retired to their dream home on the Juddville farm that had been in the Witalison family since 1898. June was the first woman elected to the Egg Harbor Village Board. They had been married for 65 years when Arthur died in 2013.
Ed and Joan Pils from Kansas City purchased the business from the Witalisons for their son and daughter-in-law, John and Susie Pils, who operated it for a year or so, but that was the end of the grocery business.
The building sat empty for a while before Shawn and Karen Peterson founded Maxwell’s House there in 1994 and purchased the property in 2001. In 2002, they expanded into the south end of the old Trodahl’s/Witalison’s store and redid the ceiling with as close of a match as possible to the original pressed tin in the oldest section of the building. Jane Lautenbach runs Jane’s Clothing Store in the little building that was once the post office.
This Old Store
This is the latest in a series of articles telling the stories of Door County’s rural grocery stores, most of which are gone. To read previous articles in this series, visit doorcountypulse.com/column/this-old-store.