New Bob and Steve's is open for business
An idea glimmering for five years in the minds of New Richmond resident, Steve Jerlow and Willow River Inn owner, Chris Kath became a reality on Friday. Bob and Steve's newest store and gas station complex opened in Burkhardt.
In the fall of 2010 the property, one with a long history, came on the market. By January the deal was complete. Kath, had purchased the five-acre site of GB Curly's aka The Rustic Hut. Kath and Jerlow were set to move forward.
Jerlow got his start in this business as a young man with an entrepreneurial spirit. Living in southwestern Minnesota, the then 20-year-old bought his first business, an ailing Amoco station. This was in the 70s when the convenience store concept was just beginning.
"Casey's was a new concept," said Jerlow who converted the service bays to a retail store.
"I have been working for myself since I was 14 years old," said Jerlow. "My mom was a nurse and dad was a businessman. It was commonplace to have several jobs at one time." Jerlow shoveled snow, mowed lawns and worked in a grocery store to name a few.
"I didn't know anything but work," said Jerlow. "What I learned while working at the grocery store I was able to apply to my own store."
Jerlow started adding the things he thought would enhance the business; video rental, food and pizza.
"I got an early start in the industry," said Jerlow.
It was his family doctor who suggested to Jerlow that he consider looking at New Richmond. His original store was a success and now he was hoping to move his family, wife and three children to a larger area with better schools and opportunities.
After, visiting New Richmond, Jerlow saw the future possibilities. He sold his original store and moved to New Richmond in 1987.
"Moving up here was the key to success," said Jerlow, who in 1989 partnered with lifelong friend Bob Micheals. "I wanted to grow but I couldn't do it without a good partner."
The team now has 31 stores and affiliates in 25 different western Wisconsin communities from Prescott to Rice Lake and east to New Auburn.
"Today, it is a tough industry," said Jerlow. "There are not many mom and pop stores left. There are very few independents because it is very competitive and volume driven."
The Burkhardt location had a lot to offer Jerlow, Micheals and Kath.
"Steve and I have been talking about this for five years," said Kath. "There were a million pieces that needed to come together first. It did not happen overnight."
Those pieces all came together Friday when Bob and Steve's BP/Amoco Store opened on County A in Burkhardt, across the street from Kath's Willow River Inn.
"I never open a new site unless I know who is going to operate it," said Jerlow. "You can't grow without good people. It starts with my treating them well and then they treat the customers well."
Jerlow is a very hands-on owner, stopping by each of the stores at least one a week and in Burkhardt, more than once a day, since it is on his route to other locations.
"People like the communication," said Jerlow, who can, at a glance, see if something is amiss when he walks in a store. "If I care, then they care. I am pretty fussy and take it seriously."
The store in Burkhardt is the footprint of the former restaurant. The stud walls and roof were saved. The rest is brand new. The coolers are built outside giving the store more room to offer fresh produce and five or six times more grocery and household goods.
"We recognize for most of the residents in the area going to the grocery store is a long trip," said Jerlow. "The whole idea is that we have enough of everything you need. You can do a mini-shopping trip without making a big trip to town."
Another feature, Bob and Steve's offers is fast food including pizza by the slice or whole, burgers and more.
"All of our stores are similar but every store is tailored to its circumstances," said Jerlow. "This store touches so many people. The response has been amazing."
Bob and Steve's also believe in giving back to the communities they serve. They have a donation application on their website www.bobandsteves.com
The Burkhardt store is open Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
A grand opening is planned for November.