Indoor flea market goes into former Wauzeka supermarket

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Andrea Dearborn and James Peotter stand in the entryway to their new store, Driftless Gems. In addition to their indoor flea market, they’ve proudly adorned the entrance with memorabilia from the building’s former enterprise, Stuckey’s Supermarket, and from the village of Wauzeka. (Photos by Correne Martin)

Near the corner of Guard Street and Business Street in Wauzeka sits Driftless Gems. After sitting vacant for five years after Stuckey’s Supermarket closed there, a local couple has reopened the space as an indoor flea market.

Aisles once filled with grocery items now feature booths of unique finds for everyone who stops by to shop. Each booth is rented by a vendor, who chooses the size and extent of the products they wish to sell inside the market.

After 5 years of the building sitting vacant, local couple takes a chance

 

By Correne Martin

 

It’s been two months since Driftless Gems opened inside the former Stuckey’s Supermarket in Wauzeka, at 105 Guard St. The indoor flea market setup has been a natural fit for Andrea Dearborn and James Peotter, the couple that purchased the building which sat vacant since Stuckey’s closed on June 30, 2017.

Andrea and James had been into buying out estate sales and hosting garage sales at their rural Wauzeka home with their various finds. Andrea had an uncle and aunt who ran an antique shop in Westby for years and she, of course, had absorbed much of their knowledge. Antiquing and buying gently used necessities and collectibles are just what they like to do. 

“In today’s economy, who can afford to buy new?” she stated. “Besides, I’ve always loved old stuff.”

Over their time together, the couple had a lot of local people suggest they open a store.

“We looked at [Stuckey’s] with a realtor probably three times before we finally made our decision,” said James. 

They went to Driftless Development Director Carol Roth to learn what they might qualify for in terms of grants and loans to get the business up and running. They made the cut for some assistance, but also worked with a bank to get a loan. They crunched their finances to determine how feasible running a store would be and put together layout plans. Andrea and James eventually closed on the sale around St. Patrick’s Day and were open by June 1.

“We put in a lot of late nights,” Andrea said. 

They had a ribbon cutting that included community stakeholders as well as the building’s former owners, Al and Mary Stuckey and family. 

Right inside the main entrance to Driftless Gems, in fact, there is a display of Stuckey’s memorabilia, including the exterior fiberglass sign, newspaper clippings, old pictures and other memorable touches from the supermarket and even the village of Wauzeka’s past. Then, you’ll notice, they still use Stuckey’s shopping carts and baskets. Along the Guard Street side of the store’s interior, they also left the historic Pepsi shelves; and on the opposite side of the facility, the old meat coolers remain too. The difference is that now, they’re filled with indoor flea market wares, and not milk, eggs and T-bone steaks.

“It was a three-generation store. We didn’t wanna take that away, but we wanted to bring something new to the community,” Andrea explained of their unique mix of antiques, vintage and new items, household and direct sales products, tools, furniture, appliances, crafts and other handmade goods. A small portion of what’s inside Driftless Gems comes from James and Andrea’s own collection. To fill the space, many different vendors rent booths throughout the store. 

In fact, they currently have 43 vendors and a waiting list. Most of the merchants live locally in the communities of Wauzeka, Boscobel, Bagley and Prairie du Chien, for example. There are a few who come from a distance, like Madison, though too. 

Booth rental fees range from $20 to $140 per month, depending on their size. Some vendors’ items can be sold on commission as well. James and Andrea hand-built the display booths from local Amish lumber and tin they had at their property. 

At present, shoppers can literally find something for everyone at Driftless Gems, from kids toys and figurines, macramé and quilts, beauty products and dog bandanas, advertising signs and primitives, table runners and blankets, glassware and old periodicals, milk cans and metal decor, and the list goes on. 

“I will say, the vendors who have a variety do a better job in sales,” Andrea said. 

Most recently, the couple added bait and tackle items for those fishermen heading out from Wauzeka onto the Kickapoo River.

Take a walk through Driftless Gems and you’ll notice how spacious, clean and bright it is. Every piece brought in by a vendor is expected to be clean. All the products are guaranteed to be in working shape, unless noted. These are all standards that the couple feels are particularly important for their customers and the success of their business.

Even more so, if you swing in to browse, it will feel like a step back in time. It’s just going to take you much longer than 5 to 10 minutes, so plan on having time.

“It came together nicely and it feels comfy,” James shared. 

Driftless Gems is open seven days a week: Monday through Thursday 11-7, Friday and Saturday 9-7, and Sunday 9-5. They host a very active Facebook page, where customers will notice deals among the various vendors, introduction of new items, and a monthly scavenger hunt for something that’s been hidden within the store. 

On Labor Day weekend, Andrea and James are also planning an outdoor flea market on the sidewalk. Anyone interested in a 10x10 spot for a daily fee should contact the store. 

“It’s amazing the people who stop and look. We’ve been very blessed with community support. We’re thankful they’ve stood by us and wanted to see this open,” Andrea added. 

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