Schillerstrasse Antiques breathes new life into former White Springs Supper Club
By Audrey Posten
“Some of the first people who came in here jokingly said ‘I want an order of onion rings and catfish,’” said Greg Schiller, who, with the help of some of his siblings, family members and local friends, opened Schillerstrasse Antiques on Aug. 31 at the location of the former White Springs Supper Club.
A McGregor institution, White Springs Supper Club first opened in 1936 on the property that once housed the Klein Brewery. In 1949, Ethel Mann, who had been working there as a cook and waitress, took over, running the establishment until her death in 2004. During her reign, the “Springs,” as it is know to many locals, became famous for its roller skating, wedding dances and square dances.
The restaurant’s French fried chicken, BBQ ribs, shrimp, catfish and hamburgers also drew patrons from near and far.
Following Mann’s death, the restaurant was left to her daughters, as well as her business partner, Harold Landt, who had worked with Mann since 1969.
In 2005, Bruce and Beverly Underwood, restaurant patrons from LaValle, Wis., located near Richland Center, tried their hand at running the business. However, due to Bruce’s ill health, the couple was forced to close White Springs’ doors in 2006.
In early 2013, concerned with the two-story building’s vacancy and deterioration, the McGregor Historic Preservation Committee submitted information and history about White Springs to the Society of Commercial Archaeology (SCA), in hopes that the society would recognize the restaurant as one of the country’s most endangered roadside places.
SCA, which was established in 1977, is an organization devoted to the buildings, artifacts, structures, signs and symbols of the 20th century commercial landscape.
In 2010, the group created the Falling by the Wayside program, which, each year, releases a list of the most endangered roadside places in the United States. The list showcases each selection, highlighting the preservation issues and challenges facing each location.
This year, White Springs Supper Club was recognized on the Falling by the Wayside list, along with four other businesses in California, Mississippi and New Jersey.
However, that designation may no longer apply.
“I’m not sure that this is valid anymore since it’s been rehabbed as an antique shop,” explained Dave Kneer, the chairman of the McGregor Historic Preservation Committee.
The Underwoods, who still own the building, have facilitated a number of changes, including removal of the restaurant equipment, installation of a new roof and downstairs carpeting, as well as painting both upstairs and downstairs. By May 2013, the building was ready for habitation.
Schiller, a lawyer from Monona, handled Mann’s estate after she died, so he was aware of White Springs. After that, though, Schiller said he lost track of the business. That is, until he was in need of a large building for an antique business.
Schiller’s mother, Darlene, passed away in Nov. 2012. An avid garage saler, Darlene left behind a significant amount of finds—everything from furniture and mirrors to glassware, kitchen items and a collection of thimbles.
Worried that her children would despair at having to deal with everything, she advised them, before her death, to sell the items via an estate sale.
“We tried to talk ourselves into it,” Schiller said of organizing an auction, “but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.”
Opening an antique shop that showcased all of Darlene’s items seemed like a good compromise.
Schiller called the endeavor an “extended estate auction,” as he said it will take at least three to five years to liquidate everything. Both the upstairs and downstairs of the building are bursting with items, and much of Darlene’s collection has yet to be unpacked and sorted. Upstairs, tubs stacked near to the ceiling run the length of the building.
Schiller said his mother had been collecting as long as he could remember, at least since the 1950s.
“She had an eye for odd and unique things,” he said. “If she saw something different that people would collect, she’d buy it.”
She also dreamed of opening her own antique shop, even going so far as to renovate one side of her garage in rural Black Hawk County to look like an antique shop.
She also had business cards made up and named the shop “Schillerstrasse,” which is German for Schiller Street.
Although Darlene never saw her dream of opening a shop come true, some of her children, along with their family and friends, have breathed new life into the concept, just as the business has breathed new life into the building.
“My dad’s goal in life was to always make my mother happy,” Schiller said. “I think this would make her happy.”
Schillerstrasse Antiques will be open each weekend through the leaf looking season.