Build in 1890, the New Diggings General Store and Inn attracts bikers and other fans from across the region for its food, fun and hospitality. (Photo by Susan Lampert-Smith) New Diggings General Store
Build in 1890, the New Diggings General Store and Inn attracts bikers and other fans from across the region for its food, fun and hospitality. (Photo by Susan Lampert-Smith)

From Door County to the former lead-mining towns of southwestern Wisconsin, general stores still tie communities together.

Back in the day, every Wisconsin town had its general store, the place that you could get pretty much everything you needed, from hardware to fabric to candy for the kids. Here’s a look at some stores that have survived from that era, and a few that are newer.

Pioneer Store in Door County Rises From the Ashes

The Pioneer Store has served residents of Door County’s Ellison Bay since 1900, and back in the day, it sold groceries to the local fisherman and farmers on credit, to be paid back when the catch of whitefish or the crops were sold. So when it was destroyed by a horrific gas explosion in 2006, the community lost its heart. Luckily the town rallied around owner Carol Newman and the store was completely rebuilt and reopened the next year. Today it’s a grocery serving the northern tip of Door County and still has an old-time vibe.

Pioneer-General-Store
The Pioneer Store has served residents of Door County’s Ellison Bay for more than 100 years. (Photo by Susan Lampert-Smith)

Spring Green General Store, Serving up Lunch and Bob Dylan Tunes

At the Spring Green General Store, you might see the actor who played Oedipus at American Players Theater the night before tucking into a black bean burrito. The store, which has been in an old cheese warehouse on Albany Street since the 1980s, is a true gathering spot for groceries, clothes and local gossip. During the pandemic, owner Karin Miller set up an online store to order groceries and all the cool gift items that range from local crafts to puzzles to craft kits. The store hosts two big outdoor music festivals on the grounds, which will make a post-pandemic return in 2022. Look for the tribute concerts to Bob Dylan and the Beatles on Memorial and Labor Day weekends respectively where musicians and small groups play a short set of songs from the artist from a stage on the store’s back porch. This goes on for eight hours, with the organizers making sure that the songs aren’t duplicated.

Kuhtz General Store Has Served Stone Bank Since 1926

In 1926, Paul Kuhtz traded his Waukesha family farm for a general store in the Oconomowoc lake district town of Stone Bank. Today, the fourth generation of the Kuhtz family runs the store.. It’s mostly a bar with food, but does have a kid-friendly general store that serves ice cream from the Mullen’s Dairy Store in nearby Watertown. The store also has some groceries and plaid flannel shirts. They’re known for their homemade pizza and pretzels. And, you can’t get more Wisconsin than a place that serves Tiger Meat Platters: Raw ground beef that is served with raw onions and rye bread.

New Diggings General Store, Where Bikers Replaced Lead Miners

New Diggings, population 47, in the southwest corner of Wisconsin, was bigger than Chicago during the lead mining boom of the 1840s. The General Store and Inn is one of the newer buildings, as it was built in 1890. Music and motorcycle lovers flock to the place on warm weekends when there’s often live music, easily doubling the population of the town. Upstairs you’ll find the inn with rooms that have themes, including a Harley room that pays homage to the bar’s clientele. You can easily walk up the hill to St. Augustine’s church, one of 25 built by pioneer priest, Father Samuel Mazzuchelli in the 1840s as he brought religion to the hurleyburley lead mining frontier. St. Augustine’s dates to 1844 and is an unpainted wooden church with Greek Revival and Gothic touches.

Ehler’s Store has Everything From Hardware to Sushi

Ehler’s Store has been serving the Lake Superior village of Cornucopia since 1915. You can find everything from hardware to fine wine to fancy takeout foods and groceries. It’s now more of a seasonal business open from May through mid-October, but if you’re lucky next summer, you might get to check out taco night when they serve tacos made of locally caught whitefish or beef barbacoa. They also have pizza nights and awesome squash ravioli.

Simple Life Country Store offers Amish-Style Shopping

From Cashton to Coloma, Wisconsin’s Amish communities host general stores that our great grandparents would recognize, places where you can buy sacks of oatmeal, straw hats and homemade candy. But the Simple Life Country Store on a farm near Fort Atkinson offers Amish and Mennonite products at a non-Amish business. It opened in 2009 and sells Amish products like rolled butter and cashew crunch candies, bulk grains and beans, artwork and farm-raised beef. And don’t forget to stock up on those wash rags like grandma used to use. Grandmas from a century ago would feel right at home here.