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Hardware Store History

Compiled and Edited by Michael R. Reilly

Last Revised 05/18/2005

The interior of the Podolske Hardware store in the mid 30's shows the rural home and farm orientated types of hardware merchandise available for sale. The fly strip hanging from the ceiling looks over hay and manure forks barn brooms, fence stretchers, drill braces and bits. Laura Podolske poses for an itinerant photographer, who was passing through town.

Podolske Hardware - a scene from yesterday

by Fred Keller of the Sussex Sun, Tues., Jan. 18, '77, printed in Yesteryear in Sussex by Fred Keller, pages 46-47

    A Sussex tradition, the Podolske Hardware Store, was an important part of the downtown Sussex merchants center from 1915 to 1966. It was the west bookend of a business district that had the Brooks Hotel (Jolly Bar in 1977) on one end, and the Lee's General Store as its' center. Across Main Street was the village school and the bank.

    Podolske Hardware had its start back in the pre-World War I days when young unmarried George Podolske came to Sussex to do some tinsmithing work at the new Malsch Furniture Store (in 1977 Schell's Interiors). Decorative tinwork was the fashionable thing of the day. Relief patterns were pressed into large sheets of galvanized iron, and then attached to walls, ceiling and exteriors. The proprietor recognized young George's proficiency and told him that Sussex needed a man of his talents. The old Malsch Furniture Store, a building immediately west of Lee's General Store, and later the Woodchick Building, was soon to become vacant. Podolske retort was, "I wouldn't be caught dead in this town," but later Malsch convinced him to rent a portion of the building and open a tinsmithing and hardware shop there.

    The "octopus pipe" coal and wood burning central heating furnaces were just coming into fashion in 1915 in Sussex. Several jobs were thrown Podolske's way. He accepted the challenge and opened up a little shop in September of that year. In November, he journeyed back to Milwaukee where he married Laura Stolz. The very next day, Podolske reopened his shop. By this time, his inventory had grown to the sum of over $200.

Outgrows Store

    A short time later his business had outgrown the cramped rented space in the old furniture store. He moved into the building immediately west which remained the base of his operations for the next half century. this building, though gone now, will forever be known as the "Podolske Building".

    The structure had been used as a horse harness shop but with the coming of the auto that business had died. It had been converted to a pool hall by a Mr. Schiffman, but Sussex proved to be too pious for this supposed den of iniquity, and it too died, Mr. Schiffman, known as a long talker, prevailed on Podolske to purchase the building on a land contract type of transaction.

    This move put the Podolskes into a multipurpose building. The east side was used for the display of hardware and the back end was used for the production of tinsmithing articles. The west part of the living quarters for the Podolske family and quarters upstairs were rented out to boarders and a traveling dentist.

    Podolske was, what one can call, a joiner. He became a prominent member of the local Masonic Lodge. He helped form the local fire company in 1922, becoming its second chief. He was also a charter member of the Sussex Lion's Club, serving as its president in 1940-41.

    Podolske and his wife raised two children. Ray, their oldest, went into service prior to World War II and became an officer in the 8th Air Force, flying out of England over Europe in a B17 bomber as a navigator. A dark day fell on Sussex when the war department reported Ray missing in action on a bomber mission over central Germany. It was many anxious months later that the Red Cross brought in a report that he was a prisoner of war in a "Stalag".  

    After the war, Ray helped his father expand the business and he became a journeyman plumber. The Podolske Hardware Store now had three departments, tinsmithing, plumbing and the sale of hardware.

    Podolske remained in business from 1915 to 1966, many generations shopping there. In the early '50's, the Schumann IGA general store closed and moved a quarter mile east to the "flats" between Sussex and Olde Templeton.

      In April of '66, a monumental fire destroyed the old Lee's-Schumann Building. A heavy wind was blowing directly west and for a long time, it was feared that the fire would spread to the adjacent structure and then onto the Podolske store. A concerted effort by six fire departments and 80 firemen building a wall of water in the 8 foot space that separated the buildings, saved the day.

    Ultimately, the loss of the building proved a boon to Sussex as it was a shortcut to "urban renewal". Tony Schumann and the Godfrey Company (Sentry Stores) bought up the adjacent property and prevailed upon the Podolskes', now both 75 years old, to sell out to them. A bulldozer made match wood of the old hardware store in a matter of hours, and soon a new food store and parking lot replaced the three old buildings.

    George and Laura Podolske retired to a new home on Orchid Ave. where Podolske puttered with his garden and flowers. He remained a staunch Lion and Mason, serving in many capacities. He was really in his element each year at Shrine Circus time when he was instrumental in raising money for tickets so Sussex area grade school children could attend the circus. He did it for 22 years. "Old George" was a faithful attendant at "reunion style" fire department stag parties where he was always called on to give a speech about how it all started.

 George Podolske died Dec. 5, 1977 at the age of 85 and he will be missed.

George Podolske purchases building his store is in. Waukesha Freeman, September 9, 1920

Son Ray returned to Sussex after being discharged,  after receiving discharge papers at Camp Grant. Going into business with father. He and bride are moving into apartment above the hardware store. Waukesha Freeman, September 5, 1945

Retirement: April 26, 1966, Massive fire destroys the Marsden-Lees-Schumann General Store next door; Tony Schumann persuades George to sell out and retire in October. (Source: Sussex Sun, Retrospect, by Fred H. Keller, Sussex Historian, issue Tuesday, July 13, 2004, page 17.)

After George sold the hardware store in October 1966, a bulldozer soon demolished the multistory wooden structure. Sussex Sun, Retrospect, by Fred H. Keller, Sussex Historian, issue Tuesday, July 13, 2004, page 17

Podolske Hardware Store was downtown Sussex, across from the Sussex Main Street School (Sussex Village Hall today), until June 2004 it was the Sentry (now Piggly Wiggly) store's west parking lot. 

Sussex Do-It-Yourself Hardware

Sussex Tru-Value Hardware


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