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End of an era: Both Nelson’s Variety Stores closing

End of an era: Both Nelson’s Variety Stores closing

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RACINE — Nelson's Variety Stores are reaching the end of an era. 

Jeff Nelson, owner-operator of Nelson's Variety, announced Friday that the company's two stores will be closing as soon as all merchandise is sold.

“I hope to close by the end of February,” he said.

This is Nelson’s 77th year selling its extensive collection of everyday and hard-to-find merchandise.

“It’s time to retire,” said Nelson, 61. “And it’s getting too difficult to find some of the stuff we’ve been known to have.”

The founders opened their first store in 1940, at 3208 Washington Ave. In 1956, they bought a building on the other side of the block and moved the store to its current site, 3223 Washington Ave., Nelson said.

In 1978, Melvin and Joan Nelson, Jeff’s parents, built and opened their north-side store at 4636 Douglas Ave., Caledonia. Both stores carry similar selections of merchandise.

Nelson, grandson of the founders, joined the family business in 1978 after graduating from Ripon College with a double major in history and political science.

He has estimated his stores carry 30,000 to 40,000 different items, which he buys from 40 to 50 or more distributors.

“We sell anything from aspirin to zippers,” Nelson often said.

The West Racine store has an old-time ambience with shopping baskets the Nelsons bought in about the 1940s and creaky, tongue-and-groove wooden floors. The merchandise itself also contributes to the old-timey atmosphere. “We carry harder-to-find, nostalgia items,” Nelson has said.

But running the business was nearly all-consuming, he said. “I really haven’t done much but be at the store(s),” he remarked.

Nelson said he didn’t attempt to sell the business, for two main reasons. “There’s no one in town who’s going to be willing to work this hard,” he said.

Also, he said, “my parents own the buildings, and they want to sell,” rather than hold them as potential landlords.

Another factor was that the business has gotten more difficult, Nelson continued. Some vendors have gone out of business and others have increased the minimum purchases they require to deal with retailers such as Nelson’s, and that doesn’t work for his business.

Another blow to West Racine

The closure announcement comes at a time when the West Racine business district had already been struggling with other storefronts going dark, including two others in the Nelson’s block alone.

Considering the timing of his announcement, Nelson said, “I’m sad about it … We’re kind of one of the anchors over there.”

The going-out-of-business sales at both stores start at 9 a.m. Monday.

Only the north-side store is open Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We sell anything from aspirin to zippers.”

— Nelson’s Variety Stores owner Jeff Nelson

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Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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