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Employed is a weekly reporting series focused on the new Northwoods.The landscape of living, playing, and working in the Northwoods is changing. Where we work, where we shop, where we reside, and how we support our families looks different than it did even a decade ago. It continues to shift as industry, tourism, retail, services, and natural resources shift.Entrepreneurship, broadband, work-from-home, and COVID-19 are all part of that mix. What makes you wonder, or what story ideas do you have for Employed? Submit them below.

Northwoods Business Owners Look to Retire While Seeing Their Legacy Continue

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Last week, Diane Dodge closed her doors for the last time as the owner of Diane’s Frame Shoppe in downtown Rhinelander.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Diane Dodge cuts a piece of glass at Diane's Frame Shoppe in downtown Rhinelander.

She’s owned and operated the frame shop since setting out on her own in 2005, struggling through a lean first few years.

“There were a few times we had to borrow to keep everything going, but we felt that it was going to be worth it, so we just kept going,” she said. “It was worth it.”

Through Diane’s work and the help of her husband, Ray, the successful business has now served thousands of customers.

After 16 years of ownership, though, the couple decided the time was right to retire this year. But the frame shop, the business they worked so hard to build? Diane felt she owed it to her customers, to the community, to herself to see that it lived on.

“It’s a good business. The people have become friends, close friends, the customers have been. It’s a very good business, and I think it’s needed here yet,” Diane said. “I was very passionate about trying to find someone who was going to love it as much as I did.”

Admittedly, she was picky in finding a buyer.

Finally, one clicked.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Diane Dodge and new frame shop owner Jaron Childs.

“It just really seemed like a door opened and it was time to walk through it. Here we are,” said new owner Jaron Childs.

Childs, who had worked for years in art conservation, was looking for something new. Buying the store was the right fit for him and the right fit for Diane.

This week, the shop reopened as Childs Frame Company, and Jaron plans to continue Diane’s legacy of customer service and professionalism in framing.

“Being that he was in the conservation [world], he knows how important it is to take care of people’s art,” Diane said. “It’s important to the people. Everything they bring in for framing is important to them.”

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
A machine at Best Embroideries in Rhinelander stitches a logo onto a hat.

Around the corner, a different Diane was in a similar position.

Diane Pilat had built Best Embroideries from the ground.

She makes custom embroidered and printed apparel but likes the interactions with customers more than any part of her job.

“I like when people say, ‘I really like that. That looks so good.’ That really warms my heart, when people like the job I do,” she said.

Several years ago, Diane moved her business from her basement to this downtown Rhinelander storefront.

But now, it’s time to retire and pass it along--but not to just any buyer.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Diane Pilat, left, with Bria Swartout, who bought Best Embroideries from Pilat.

“It’s 100 percent important to me that I find the right person who is going to take over. It’s my legacy. It’s what I built. I worked really hard to build this,” she said.

Bria Swartout, the former executive director of the Oneida County Humane Society, is that person. She’s never owned a business before but is picking things up quickly.

“It’s clicking. There’s a huge learning curve. Diane has been fantastic teaching me,” Bria said. “I love staying busy and I love doing things. It sounds silly, but back in high school, when I took the home ec, the sewing classes, I really enjoyed that. So thinking forward, this is definitely something I can do.”

She’ll soon take over as the shop’s owner.

Diane is confident she made the right choice in a new owner that will continue the work she’s been doing for years.

“I built this from nothing,” Diane said, “But I know it’s in good hands.”

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Lynn Smith, the owner of Smith Sport and Hobby in Crandon.

In Crandon, Lynn Smith wants her shop to fall into good hands, too.

She and her husband, Mike, opened Smith Sport and Hobby in 2007.

“When we built the store, we had said we were going to do this for up to ten years and then maybe do something different or see where we’re at at that point. Well, it’s been 14 years. It just came to us, we said, I think it’s time,” Lynn said.

No other store in the area stocks live bait or the array of fishing, hunting, and outdoors items available at Smith’s.

Lynn is ready to sell but couldn’t bear to see Crandon lose the shop. The couple has already turned down offers to buy the building and convert it to something else.

“What we hope to find is someone who will keep our business going,” Lynn said. “We’ve worked hard to bring it up to what it is today. We would really like to keep it as it is.”

Thankfully, the Smiths are in discussions with several potential buyers who would do just that.

Then, instead of wishing her customers a nice day on the water, she could join them there.

“I’m a little jealous when it comes to that,” Lynn said. “I’m like, geez, everybody’s going out on the lake to ski and tube and fish and we’re here working.”

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Diane's Frame Shoppe in Rhinelander.

These three business owners appear to have accomplished something hard--finding someone to continue their legacies after retirement.

But as Diane Dodge at the frame shop knows, the next hard part is saying goodbye to what they’ve worked for years to build.

“I’m going to get emotional now,” Diane said, pausing to catch her breath. “But it’s like, okay, I’m not going to see a lot of these people anymore. Stuff like that.”

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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