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Local History Index:

Lees' Grocery Store History

by Fred H. Keller, Sussex Village Historian

published, Sussex Sun, Retrospect, May 7, 2008

Last Revised 05/03/2009

The Lees family was a huge factor in the Sussex-Lisbon area from before World War I through the Korean War.

At one time the expanded Lees family had a property imprint of more than 150 acres, including today's Clarence Golner property on Hickory Drive off Silver Spring Road and the subdivisions that include Sunset or Hickory, Sumac and Butternut drives and Pine Terrace.

Their biggest holdings, however, were in downtown Sussex, including the Lees General Store, the dominant grocery store of Sussex, Lisbon and Templeton, and Sussex State Bank (which later became Farmers & Merchants Bank and today is Associated Bank).

Sally Greve of Watertown recently gave the Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society a copy of a Lees General Store advertising specials flier for "Nov. 6 to Nov. 12" (no year). The telephone number listed at the bottom included the digits 11, making it a Lisbon Telephone Co. number in the years 1916-41. Other indicators pin the ad more closely to the years of the Great Depression, 1929-40.

The flier advertised 14-oz. cans of Happy Valley tomatoes for 14 cents, oval cans of sardines with mustard or tomato sauce for 10 cents, five pounds of apples for 19 cents, cabbage for 9 cents a head, lettuce for 10 cents a head, 1-pound cans of kidney beans for 10 cents, coffee for 22 cents a pound, a dozen oranges for 23 cents and five pounds of bananas for 25 cents.

A customer would go to clerks at the counter with a list of items instead of roaming the store with shopping carts. The clerk then retrieved the items from shelves behind the counter, stacking the goods up until the order was filled. Most of the orders were charged to the store books, with the expectation that the bills would be paid off on payday.

Lees posted its ads in the local Sussex High School newspaper, The Courier, and on fliers. One 1930s ad informed, "We deliver within the Village, Telephone orders will receive our prompt attention." Another listed "Fruits, Vegetables, novelties, clothing, paint, shoes, rubbers & glass" and promised "Quality, Service, Economy."

The original wooden store was built by Joe Marsden in the 1890s, followed by a host of store renters, the most notable being the Baer Bros., before Lees took over.

A 1908 Lisbon telephone book lists Edgar Lees as a local farmer, followed by a torrent of Lees in succeeding editions until their demise in the late 1940s and early 1950s. That's when Anthony Schumann came back from his service in World War II and began competing with Lees in his Sussex IGA store. He eventually bought out Lees.

Over the years, Lees General Store was known as G. W. Lees General Store, Lees Bros. General Store and Lees General Merchandise.

The 1918-23 Rural Directory of Waukesha County and the 1928 Prairie Farmers Waukesha Directory list a number of Lees family members in Sussex: Albert Lees, his wife, Louisa Lilly, and their three sons, Charles, George and Clarence; George W. Lees, "general merchant in Sussex," and his wife, Almyra; Edgar Lees, his wife, Ida, their son, Edgar T. Lees, and two horses and nine cows; Charles Lees, with a Lisbon Telephone Co. number of 68; Clarence Lees, "merchant," his wife, Dora Vick, and their three children, Jane, Wesley and Alice.

From 1842 on, competition for grocery sales in Lisbon increased with the opening of a Russell Levi store and later a McDonald Store near Duplainville and Lisbon (Plank) roads.

The Brown and Champeny stores entered the picture later, followed by the David Topping store (which became the Sam Worthington General Store), the Templeton-Cooling store, the Boots store and then the Marsden development across from Sussex Main Street School.

The new Village of Templeton a mile east of old Sussex also offered the Templeton store, which later became the Schroeder General Store.

Today the Sussex Piggly Wiggly store stands on the grounds of Anthony "Bubbles" Schumann's former Sussex Sentry store and the original site of the old Lees General Store.

Some great antique collector items from Lees are their 1930s mixing bowls with a blue print embossed on the inside bottom of the bowl. They sell at auction for well over $100 each - 25 years ago, I paid $125 for the copy now in the Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society Museum.

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