Next month, Jim Wise and Pam Theiler-Wise, owners and operators of Tomahawk Surplus, will celebrate the store’s 60th year as a member of the Tomahawk downtown business community.
“I grew up in retail,” Pam says with a smile, explaining how her father Edwin “Toppy” Theiler opened the store’s original location at 316 N. Fourth St. as a grocery store, Toppy’s Grocery.
“Our house was attached to the store, so I literally grew up in the grocery store and later the Surplus store, when my father switched over to surplus in 1956.
“My dad saw the coming of the big grocery chains, so he started looking for something else other than grocery,” Pam explains. “Around that same time my aunt and uncle, Carol and Jim Bishop, were selling surplus items out of their garage out on Highway 86. My dad offered to buy out their stock and moved forward with opening up Tomahawk Surplus. He was a World War II Navy veteran and always enjoyed the outdoors, so he knew a little about surplus. It was a good fit.”
Twenty years later, Pam and Jim married and in 1986, purchased the store from Edwin.
Then in 1996, the Wise’s relocated the store from its North Fourth Street location to their 2,000-square foot present location at 124 W. Wisconsin Ave.
“US 51 used to come right through town and the original location benefited from that,” Jim said. “But when the new highway bypassed the city, it hurt a lot of businesses, including us. We chose the new location due to a larger building which meant more space, and the location was great being in the downtown business district.”
In 2002, the Wise’s purchased the attached building on the east side and opened Silver Threads Boutique, which Pam operates.
When asked of their secret to keeping their doors open after over half a century, both Pam and Jim readily admit; adaptability.
“The surplus trend started fading in the early ‘90s and pretty soon there just weren’t too many of us around anymore. When the trend started to fade out, we started focusing on outer wear, outdoors equipment and work wear. You have to be adaptable,” Jim said. “We have never really had any employees over the years which I think has helped us. It’s always been Pam and I running the business ourselves, with a little part-time help here and there.”
The Wise’s maintain a small stock of military surplus items along with a wide array of outer and work wear including popular brands of Carhart, LaCrosse™ Boots, Muck™ Boots, Georgia™ Boots, Woolrich™ woolen winter clothing and Stormy Kromer™ winter headwear.
Jim also keeps a small collection is historical military items he affectionately refers to as a “mini military museum.”
“A big part of running our business has been being a part of the local business community and welcoming back tourists and cottage-goers every year,” Pam adds. “We have enjoyed providing a personal and welcoming atmosphere to our customers over the years, especially catching up with our seasonal customers. Jim and I have literally watched as parents have grown into grandparents over the years and even great grandparents. Their children grow into parents and bring their own children and grandchildren into the store. It’s been wonderful to share in that experience and literally seeing three generations of family come through our doors.”