RACINE — The friendly sisters who ran Dover Flag & Map have retired and are leaving the 30-year-old business in the hands of new owners.
Tuesday was the last day at Dover, 323 Main St., for owner JoAnne Labre and sister Jeanne Melenric-Ehn. Dan Oakes, president of A.W. Oakes & Son, and his wife, Christine, are buying the building, business and inventory.
The closing of the purchase was set for Wednesday, May 15. The store — which was usually known to have an adoptable cat on hand — will be temporarily shuttered, and is tentatively scheduled to reopen May 28.
Dan Oakes said he’s been a faithful customer of Dover’s since buying a flagpole and American flag there 25 years ago. Every year, he said, he buys a new flag there.
“It’s a beautiful building, and I love the location,” he said.
Dan’s son Daniel has lined up Prairie School senior Elizabeth Hokanson to run the store — ideally with a partner yet to be found — for the summer. Then Daniel will have to find someone else to step in.
There are likely other changes ahead for the business, Dan and Daniel Oakes said. One could be to split the existing, 3,800-square-foot store down the middle to reduce its footprint to half and thereby create a second storefront to rent. The building was designed that way, with each half having its own furnace and bathroom, and the basement is already divided. Splitting the space would not happen until after July 4 or the summer, Dan said.
Both Oakes said they think there is also opportunity to do more online sales, and they plan to build a website for that purpose.
“It’s going to be a new adventure for us,” Daniel said.
Thirty years in Downtown
Labre, now 66, and her late husband, John Labre, started their business in 1988 in their Kansasville home — thus the Dover name; the unincorporated Kansasville community is located within the Town of Dover.
“We were selling flags and flagpoles using a post office box and an answering service,” she said.
The year after the Labres started their business, they opened a store in Downtown, originally occupying 300 Main St. before moving to the present building in 1993.
Melenric-Ehn, now 70, joined Labre in 2000.
The advent of smartphone navigation has not killed everyone’s desire for maps, Labre said, although map sales have shrunk from about half of the business to about one-quarter. For example, people buy maps before taking a trip or to explore other states when contemplating retirement. They buy wall maps for marking their travels with pins, and some people will follow along on a map while reading a book.
Labre, 66, is happy the Oakes family was willing to continue the life of her business. For the past decade, since the death of her husband in 2009, Labre said she’s been thinking about making her exit from Dover Flag & Map.
When she eventually put the building on the market a little more than a year ago, “I listed it with the idea that I wanted to sell the building and the business,” Labre said. “… I did not want to sell just the building.”
She added: “I’m tickled pink.”
“We are lucky to have a niche flag store in Downtown for so many years; they are a staple and I am glad to see it will remain as Dover Flag even after their retirement,” Kelly Kruse, Downtown Racine Corp. executive director, said Tuesday.
In a thank-you ad that ran in The Journal Times Tuesday, Jo and Jeanne wrote in part: “We really enjoyed telling people where to go!”
“I listed it with the idea that I wanted to sell the building and the business. … I did not want to sell just the building.” JoAnne Labre, seller of Dover Flag & Map