A new storefront in downtown Rhinelander attracts few walk-in customers.
The store sells parts for commercial, business, and personal aircraft, even though it’s far from any major airport.
But although it doesn’t get much street traffic, the business plan and attitude of the owners might be a sign of a downtown on a gradual rise.
“If I was going to describe my business, I’m like the Napa Auto Parts for airplanes,” said Bob Lueder, the owner of Plane Parts Inc. in downtown Rhinelander.
The well-lit, well-organized storefront on Davenport Street might seem like an odd place for a store like this, nowhere near any airport that could be considered a hub.
Few customers wander in to buy parts, but that’s okay. The real traffic is the plane parts that are shipped out in dozens of boxes each day.
Last Thursday, as he talked, Lueder was working on a package to send to Taiwan.
“It’s like, they could have ordered these from anybody, and they ordered from my little company, and then, on top of that, in Rhinelander, Wisconsin,” he said.
Lueder does something unique, assembling part kits for airplane needs.
For example, instead of a mechanic scrambling to order the right O-ring from this distributor and the correct cotter pin from that one, all in order to fix a nose strut on a Cessna, they come to Lueder instead. His kits contain every part needed for the maintenance project.
Admittedly, the business could be run out of his basement, like it used to be. But Lueder wanted to be downtown.
“I wanted to create a space downtown that would fill an empty building or an empty storefront and create an energy down here that would bring other like-minded, positive-thinking, forward-moving people to this area,” he said.
A few years ago, a new job in Crandon for his wife, Stephanie, brought the family from Rockford, Illinois, to the Northwoods.
It was a new area for her, but Bob had fond memories of coming north with his grandparents as a child.
The couple bought the downtown space this spring, and another career change for Stephanie opened an opportunity for her to become an entrepreneur of her own upstairs.
She’s an energy coach, a type of life coach who incorporates the Japanese technique of reiki into her work.
“If you’ve ever heard of laying of hands in the Bible, it’s very similar to that,” Stephanie explained. “It’s just asking, in prayer, for God and the divine to give the person energy that they need in that moment.”
The fit in downtown Rhinelander seemed natural from the start, said Stephanie.
“This is the first time I can honestly say in my lifetime that I’ve felt a part of a community,” she said. “When we got here, it was just like instantly, people were receptive, friendly, willing to listen to new ideas.”
She’s hoping the couple’s presence breathes even more positivity into the area.
“Energy follows intention,” Stephanie said. “Our intention is to be downtown here so we can emit some of that positive energy, because it catches.”
At CT’s Deli downtown, owner Rhonda Jicinsky feels that momentum.
“It is a vital, active downtown, so it’s like, okay, I want to be here,” Jicinsky said.
She’s is the president of Downtown Rhinelander, Inc., the district’s improvement organization.
The area has had is challenges with stagnant growth and empty storefronts, but seems to be moving in the right direction.
“More businesses are coming to downtown,” Jicinsky said. “Once more businesses come, others say they want to be downtown too.”
“Yes, it definitely seems like it’s getting more vibrant, and it’s exciting to be a part of that,” agreed Cecily Dawson, a Rhinelander realtor.
Dawson grew up in town, left, then came back seven years ago to find the downtown gradually changing for the better. She encourages businesses to locate downtown.
“Most of us want a chance to be in that downtown area where we’re going to see people,” she said. “There’s going to be action and movement and different personalities and diversity and opportunities to exchange ideas.”
In fact, Dawson helped the Lueders buy the Plane Parts Inc. building this spring.
“There continues to be a new influx of faces in Rhinelander that weren’t always here,” Dawson said. “I think that’s a cool element of our community that’s really adding to the positive changes and growth that we’re having here.”
One of those new faces, Bob Lueder, was finishing the packing of his Taiwan-bound shipment.
It’s headed a place he may never go, to be used by people he’ll never meet.
But Lueder is delighted to be grounded in a place with new friends and new community, right in the middle of downtown Rhinelander.
His hunch? He’s not alone.
“There are plenty of Lueder families, or Lueder-like families, that are moving up here because people are figuring out that, I don’t need to live in a big city, and the quality of life up here is just so much better,” he said.