Retirement not in the cards for Port businessman

Merton Lueptow, who with his brother owned and operated Lueptow’s Furniture for decades, is now busy with a different venture because even at 86, not working is not an option

MERTON LUEPTOW HAS been a fixture in downtown Port Washington for more than six decades, first as co-owner of Lueptow’s Furniture and Appliance and now as an owner of the Shoppes of Port Washington. Lueptow said he manages the floor at the shop, while his wife Margaret (inset photo) handles much of the bookkeeping and runs the register. The couple own the business with their partner Brian Preising. Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press Staff

Merton Lueptow has been a fixture in Port Washington’s downtown business community for more than six decades.

He and his brother Wayne and their families operated Lueptow’s Furniture and Appliance in downtown — a business his parents began in 1934 — for 65 years. Now, at age 86, Lueptow has stepped back into the retail community, operating the Shoppes of Port Washington at 123 N. Franklin St.

“I didn’t want to retire,” Lueptow said. “I would rather stay busy.”

He, his wife Margaret and their partner Brian Preising own and operate the business. Lueptow said they it run as a cooperative for the roughly 44 vendors who sell their wares at the shop, with he and his partners managing the business.

“We’re having a lot of fun,” he said.

 It’s a natural progression for Lueptow, who started the Shoppes of Port Washington after he and his brother Wayne closed Lueptow’s Furniture in 2007.

“The store was sitting empty, and we had no income and a lot of expenses,” he said, including taxes and insurance.

He recruited vendors who had goods to sell — primarily handmade items — and gave them the space to operate inside the building.

About a year later, Lueptow sold the building to Dan Ewig and his wife Marie-Ann, who renovated it and converted it into the Boerner Mercantile Building, which houses Daily Baking Co., ZuZu Pedals and a number of offices.

Lueptow said he told his vendors then that if they found a place to rent, he would help them move and hand the operation to the largest vendors.

They did just that, moving to the current building and operating successfully since then.

Lueptow’s wife Margaret has operated a booth and small book room that benefit their church for years, and Lueptow took over the Fireworks Popcorn booth in the building.

But when the operating vendors left, the Lueptows and Preising, who sells T-shirts and pallet furniture and accessories there, took over the business.

“I call this my hobby farm,” Lueptow said. “We’re not in business to make money for ourselves. Our business is to provide space for people to develop their own businesses.

“We’re very happy to see them move on and up when they’ve established their business.”

About four of their vendors have done just that, Lueptow said.

There are about 44 vendors now. The vendors rent space in the building — spaces go for $50 a month or more — providing enough income to pay the rent, and they receive a check each month for the sales they have made.

Preising manages the booths, finding vendors and keeping the store looking good, Lueptow said. Margaret handles much of the bookkeeping, while he manages the floor. They also spend a couple days a week at the store, handling duties behind the register.

“I really enjoy the people and the vendors,” Margaret said. “They’re really good about helping each other.”

The shop draws a crowd, especially in summer when tourists stop by.

 “It’s amazing who walks through the door,” Margaret said. “Port Washington has people coming in from all over the world. It’s great to meet them and greet them.”

“I don’t think a week goes by in summer when we don’t have someone from another country in here,” her husband noted, adding that even though his wife doesn’t speak another language, she has a way of communicating with others that transcends the language barrier.

“She can interpret real well,” he said.

The shop has eclectic offerings, but among the best sellers — especially during the summer tourist season — are souvenirs   such as postcards, Port Washington cups and photographs as well as jewelry that incorporates beach glass and rocks, Lueptow said.

 Booths in the shop feature sports themed snowmen and penguins, knit keychains — “I just love them,” Margaret said. “I think they have great personality.” — home decor items, some of them made with driftwood, pallet furniture, geodes and rocks, photography, rag rugs, Christmas ornaments, natural soaps and lotions, pottery, birdhouses and signs, to name a few things.

The Port Washington Senior Center’s Chicks With Sticks has a booth with needlework items its members have made, and there’s also an antiques area.

“We have people who come in every month to see what’s new,” Lueptow said.

Food items are also popular, and include maple syrup, honey, salsas, vinegars and oils. 

“There’s a lot of creativity in this store,” Margaret said. “To me, it’s amazing how creative people are. I welcome it — it’s part of who and what we are.”

The most important part of the business, the Lueptows stressed, is the opportunity it provides the vendors.

“We’re doing this for others, not ourselves,” Margaret said. “This is to help them and our church.”

“We know we’re not going to make money,” her husband added. “But we’re having a lot of fun.”



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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