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Wise Olde Owl moving doors further north on Main Street in downtown Fremont
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Wise Olde Owl moving doors further north on Main Street in downtown Fremont

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For many of Wise Olde Owl Gift Shop’s customers, Thom Ender said it’s their happy place.

“I’d say at least 85%, and I’m probably really underestimating, of the people that come in this store laugh somewhere in the store,” he said. “There’s laughter in here.”

After previously moving a block north on Main Street, Wise Olde Owl is currently in the process of going one block further from 439 N. Main St. to 516 N. Main St., where it will open its doors next month.

“If you’ve been in our store, you know that we’re jammed full,” Ender said. “So we are growing up and growing wider.”

Wise Olde Owl, which opened in 2014, features a variety of gifts from cards to stuffed animals to Halloween and Christmas decorations.

Ender owns the gift shop along with his husband, Brian Seil. With Ender’s family in Colorado and Seil’s in Iowa, the two originally moved to Fremont from Minneapolis in 2005.

“We kind of wanted a place that was halfway between our parents, and so we picked out Fremont,” Seil said. “It’s been a great community so far, and we love it here.”

With Seil’s dream of operating his own shop, the two opened Wise Olde Owl at its first location before moving a block north in 2015.

The gift shop features “a little bit of everything,” Ender said.

“We try to cover all the different occasions for gifts: birthdays, new houses, Christmas, new babies, anniversaries, baptisms, confirmations, first communions,” he said. “So that’s what we specialize in.”

The shop also includes a gourmet food market with tea and a year-round Halloween section, which includes decorations and books written, illustrated and signed by West Point author Gris Grimly.

“When we went to visit relatives or friends or stuff, when we’d go shopping, we’d always be excited if there was anything Halloween in the stores,” Ender said. “So we thought that there would be a market for that.”

Over the last year, Seil said he started talking with Ender about expanding the business, as it had been seeing continuous growth, especially with its baby products and greeting cards.

“We kind of wanted to have more expansion in those areas,” he said. “So that’s one reason why we wanted to find a bigger space so that we can spread out a little bit more and get more product in for our customers.”

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The new home for Wise Olde Owl, which is about twice as large as the old location, was previously occupied by Second Look. In years past, the building was home to a women’s high-end department store owned by Roy Farris.

The back of the building includes both raised and lowered areas, which will be occupied by the Halloween and Christmas sections, respectively.

“I think we’re going to increase sales because we’ll be able to do a little bit more organization of having departments,” Seil said.

With the new building, Ender said the location will feature a new sound system installed by Audio Video Specialist.

“We have a little boombox, but that’s just not going to cut it when you’re twice as big and you’re in the back there,” he said. “So we’re looking forward to that.”

Currently, the ceiling is being painted, while carpentry is set to start this weekend. Seil said he’ll spend four or five days painting the walls before items are moved over.

In constructing the new location, Seil said he’s been sharing updates to the shop’s Facebook page for their customers.

“The response has just been overwhelming,” he said. “We’ve just got to get it done, but we should be done in another week or so.”

Seil and Ender said the new location should be open for business in early or mid-March.

With Wise Olde Owl’s customer base, Ender said their support over the years has been amazing.

“Many of them are like, ‘Oh, I have to bring my friend in when they come to town, I’m so excited,’” he said. “The vibe going on from this move, it’s incredible. People are so excited.”

Although the shop had to close for two months last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Seil said he’s been amazed by the support from customers and can’t wait to open the new location.

“That’s what this business is, it’s almost like a family,” he said. “They come in and support us, so we’re very appreciative.”

Maxine Williams joins Black Enterprise Digital Editor Selena Hill for an exclusive one-on-one live interview on Facebook’s commitment to minority business owners and the black community amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly half of State Street's 150 storefronts were boarded up in Downtown Madison last week. COVID-19 has ravaged the local economy and cost thousands of jobs, especially in the hospitality and retail industries. Looting and vandalism that followed local protests against police violence in Minneapolis, Kenosha and elsewhere caused further damage. What can the city do to bring back its signature shopping and entertainment corridor? Jason Ilstrup, president of Downtown Madison Inc., a business and booster organization, guest stars on this week's podcast, giving Milfred and Hands his prescription for future success. State Street musician Art Paul Schlosser makes a cameo appearance. Milfred and Hands tout this Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal editorial calling for State Street to become a pedestrian mall with more space outside for shops, cafes and public art. That will require moving buses off State Street.    

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