When the first work week of 2006 begins Monday, the calendar won't just be signifying a new year for a downtown Brainerd business.
It will be a change of generations.
Bob Schuler's business life started as a paper boy. At 10 he was delivering advertising circulars for his dad, who had the Gambles appliance store in downtown Brainerd. He started working for his father in 1958 while he was in high school.
Downtown Brainerd was home to major department stores like J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward. It was the era before malls. After graduating from high school, Schuler spent time away from Brainerd working at various locations with the Gambles company. But he came back to work with his father.
In 1971, Schuler and his dad bought the Gambles corporate store in Brainerd and turned it into an authorized dealer store. Downtown Brainerd was still a busy place in the early 1970s. Schuler remembered seven or eight hardware stores in town, ladies dress shops and Scott's Downtown Store, among others.
As the additions of malls pulled stores out of downtown Brainerd, Schuler said the traffic was no longer there to sustain the appliance and hardware store. Bob and Fran Schuler decided to move down the block and open an independent furniture and appliance store.
"In 40 years of business I've been in the same block and that's not going very far," Bob said and laughed. "We never had the idea of becoming millionaires. We just wanted to earn a living and we've done that."
They thought if the furniture store didn't work out they could find something else to do. They gave it three to five years and signed a short-term lease. The store's spot on the corner of Laurel and Eighth streets fit into downtown Brainerd's evolution from high-volume traffic to destination shopping.
The furniture store didn't need 100 people to enter the doors each day. Schuler said all they needed were 10 good customers a day. Being part of a national buying group of independents gave them purchasing clout to let them compete with chain stores in pricing.
Being independent allowed them to make their own schedule. They were able to close on Sundays and have time for family. After their four children were all in school, Fran worked behind the scenes at the furniture store. She spent about 10 years there full time. She has not been active at the store for a couple years and says she is enjoying retirement. Family members have been involved in the store for many years.
"They'll do fine," Fran said of the next generation taking store ownership. "They've been there for quite a while." She hopes people realize that with their retirement the store is not closing.
With the Schulers' retirement, the store is owned by five people. Owners are two of the Schulers' daughters and their husbands, Dennise and Vince Kline and Julie and Ted Franz, and Dan Anderson, a young man who has worked at the business since he was in high school.
Downtown is a stable retail area with stores finding a niche, Bob said. People he met along the way stand out now as memories.
Now 62, Schuler said the day has arrived to step away from the business. Schuler said he learned his work ethic from his father, who worked hard all his life. His father also left him with a number of sayings.
"You can tell when you are successful when the freight truck comes and you don't have to unload it," Schuler said, recalling his father's words. "I guess I haven't unloaded a freight truck for the last few years."
The two expect to be busy with grandchildren (they have 10), do a little traveling and have time for hobbies. Schuler has a workshop and antique cars.
"I bought a project out by the river they call a cabin - it's primitive," Schuler said. And he's convinced there will be plenty of projects. He said his wife keeps pointing to the shed. "She says, 'You have things to do out there.'"
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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