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Taxes and energy wilt business

Wisconsin: For the first time in 70 years, Wausau Floral is closed for the winter. Owner Dwight Oelke said annual heat and tax bills totaling about $50,000 prompted him to shut down the high-profile business along Grand Avenue.

Although Oelke wants to sell the property, he’s “confident” he’ll reopen in the spring if the shop doesn’t sell. The business has been for sale for about one year and is listed with Grubb & Ellis for nearly $800,000, but Oelke is willing to break up the property into smaller, cheaper pieces.

Oelke, 55, is the third generation of his family to run the Grand Avenue business. His grandfather, Ted Lawen, bought the shop in 1941 and Oelke’s dad, Carl Oelke, took over in the late 1960s. Dwight Oelke began running the business 25 years ago and bought it in 1995.

Oelke said the decision to temporarily shutter the business starting Nov. 1 did not come easily.

“It was a major, major decision for me and my family … but I just can’t swing it,” said Oelke, who also makes a living as a landlord. “Between the utility bills and the taxes, when you add that up, that’s a lot of flowers.”

In addition, flowers have become expendable in this struggling economy, Oelke said.

“We’re selling a luxury item, and a lot of people don’t have money for luxury items these days,” he said.

Oelke’s son, Greg, and daughter, Heather, were temporarily laid off as a result of the shutdown.

Dwight Oelke grew up next door to Wausau Floral, and at 10 years old, he earned 25 cents an hour to pull weeds and fill flower beds with soil. But his official foray into the family business was fixing John Deere tractors once sold at Wausau Floral.

Oelke took over the business “out of necessity” after his father died, but the ability to see plants and flowers blossom from a seed has him hooked on horticulture.

“I like watching things grow; I just wish that’s all I had to deal with,” he said.

For the first time in about two decades, Oelke said he will be able to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family instead of working.

“It’s going to be very different to be able to celebrate with the family and not have the concerns about how the crop’s doing and whether it’s getting heat,” he said.

Wausau City Council member Bill Nagle has bought vegetables, flowers and other plants at Wausau Floral for years.

Oelke is “an honorable, honest business person,” Nagle said, and he is sorry to see the shop close for the winter. That said, Nagle said he thinks the city should help Oelke sell the high-visibility Wausau Floral property and others nearby.

“I’d love to see the city look at encouraging development of that whole side of the block between Floral Avenue and Thomas Street,” he said.

Source: Central Wisconsin Business


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