Where’s the Beef?

I had occasion to act like a real American this week and spend several hours driving a car (on World Car Free Day no less) and visit Real ‘Merica (heck yeah!) in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin (how’s that for foreign, you guys? Would you like more parentheticals?).

One thing I love about visiting a new city is the opportunity to learn something, however small, about its history. Walking down Bridge Street in Chippewa Falls, you can see the boom that happened there around the turn of the 20th century. You can also see that lack of subsequent demand that’s left those buildings in place, but a bit underused.

Which brings me to the sign above which, as you can see, is nearly at the corner of Birch and Bridge streets (but for the convenient parking lot). At first I thought maybe it wasn’t a “ghost” because, well, it’s pretty darn clear, and there could still be a meat market there. But there isn’t and I assumed that this one was touched up at some point as a bit of public art. There’s a nearly identical, but far more faded, version on the other side of the building. Turns out, the one in our picture was recreated in 2002.

There’s a date stone on the front of the building, up near the top, that says “L. Bischel” and “1907.” So it seems like a safe bet that the building was built in 1907 by a Bischel with the first initial “L” (Linus? Lionel? Leopold? Ludwig? Lucious? Lamont? Lucifer?).

Okay, it’s actually Lorenz and it seems he moved to Chippewa Falls from Germany in 1863 and this building was actually the second location of his meat market on Bridge Street.

The power of Google informs us that that there were Brothers Bischel who were partners in a meat market here. They went their separate ways as reported in The National Provisioner on February 2, 1918, with John Bischel continuing in the business. I would have to guess that these brothers are Lorenz’s sons.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has some older photos, perhaps from 1984, when the building housed Grothes Inc. electrical contracting. Today it houses Chippewa Falls Main Street, which seems to be an organization that tries to strengthen downtown Chippewa Falls. They also had a hand in getting this sign repainted, so they seem like they could be my kind of people.

Having spent almost very nearly an entire hour there, I can now proudly claim to be the world’s foremost expert on Chippewa Falls, therefore, please stand by for my erudite critique of its urban planning. Okay, so I’m not qualified for that in any way shape or form, but I’m going to offer some thoughts anyway. There were some nice banners along the streets (I’d bet the Main Street people had a hand in that) that said “bike,” among other things, but I didn’t see anyone on a bike. In fact, I think the only bikes I saw were on display in the sporting goods store. Someone had taken the time to paint “No Bikes” on a sidewalk though, so maybe I just missed the typical bike volume.

Nor did I see a bike facility of any type, leaving me wondering where the banner-hangers wanted people to ride. Granted, even though it was a weekday, the traffic volume wasn’t so bad. I probably would have been willing to bike around downtown Chippewa Falls, but then again, I’m someone who bikes kind of a lot. A less confident rider might find the Bay Street and Rushman Drive/High Street one-ways a bit daunting. They sure seemed like they’d be more pleasant as two-ways.

Meanwhile, directly across Bridge Street from Bischel’s, there’s a newish-looking Holiday, complete with giant parking lot and car wash, not unlike the one proposed for Northeast Minneapolis. Essentially in the middle of downtown. Just down the street from another gas station. And a few blocks across town from the large grocery store whose parking lot breaks the street grid. So, yeah, none of that is what an urbanist would suggest you do to make a vibrant downtown.

But I don’t want to be too pessimistic. There were several cool things going on downtown too. The Korger’s decorating store at Bridge and Central abuts the sidewalk on both sides, has street-level windows and, to my unprofessional eye, speaks nicely to the historic buildings of downtown, even though it was built in 2003. The Shoe Factory Apartments look like an cool adaptive re-use, that apparently hadn’t happened yet when the Google Streetview last went by.  I think this surface parking lot is now a hotel. They’ve also got a nice, newish roundabout at the bottom of Bridge Street. And, of course, I’m jealous of all of Wisconsin having 25 mph speed limits in town.

Anyway, I’m rambling toward a missing conclusion here, but perhaps the bottom line is that Chippewa Falls is totally worth an almost hour of your time. And probably more.

Cross-posted from Ghost Signs of Minneapolis

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9 Responses to Where’s the Beef?

  1. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller September 29, 2016 at 10:11 am #

    Apparently I lost my intended link to the Wisconsin historical society photos: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Content.aspx?dsNav=Nrc:id-1079%7cid-4-dynrank-disabled,N:4294963828-4294963814&dsNavOnly=N:1085&dsRecordDetails=R:HI3169

  2. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD September 29, 2016 at 10:27 am #

    My aunt lives in Jim Falls which is near Chippewa Falls and so I’ve visited and biked there a bunch. They actually have pretty nice bike trails (http://chippewacounty.com/uploads/maps/Old_Abe_State_Trail_Map.pdf). There is a loop (blue on the map) that surrounds downtown and connects the Old Abe and Chippewa River Trails. While those are largely used as recreational trails, I’ve biked from my aunt’s house to Chippewa and it was pretty great.

    Chippewa is also home to Seymour Cray who started Cray Computer. They still maintain a presence there which attracts outsiders and brings higher paying jobs than many small towns in WI have. Leinenkugel is based there and there are quite a few beer-related businesses. My aunt works for a beer distribution company that serves a lot of western WI. That said, to some extent Chippewa is becoming a bedroom community for Eau Claire. My cousins and most of their friends live in Chippewa, but drive to Eau Claire for work.

    A few years ago we were in a financial and career rut and looked at moving to a small town. Our criteria were: three hours or less from the Twin Cities; walkable/bikeable downtown; a college; a co-op; some level of diversity beyond old white people; affordable housing; and a nearby natural water source. Chippewa made the short-list.

  3. cobo Rodreges September 29, 2016 at 10:42 am #

    Chippewa falls has a downtown museum with an amazing collection of vintage Cray & CDC supercomputers (Better than the computer history museum in silicon valley) and other industrial relics. Its been a few years since I was therem and I found a little disheartening how dusty/ poorly lit /and poorly labeled things were but they had some really cool stuff.
    Worth a trip its self if your into that sort of thing.

    I think Eau Claire kind of soaks up a lot the urbanist ambitions for the region, that could explain some of your observations.

  4. Scott September 29, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

    My late Grandmother lived in Chippewa Falls and I spent a lot of time there as a kid. The downtown used to have a lot of retail up until the late 1980’s, but most people shop in Eau Claire now. It is actually a pretty walkable community- especially downtown and the older neighborhoods. In fact we always used to walk to Gutnecht’s Meat Market that was in a residential neighborhood up one of the big hills away from downtown. CF felt like a big city to me as a kid from a tiny town in SW MN, and it’s one of the places that sparked my interest in cities.

  5. Cal October 3, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    Wow…kind of a disappointing article! Bummer. As someone who has watched Chippewa Falls grow and improve vastly over the last 10 years, I’m bummed at your seemingly pessimistic take. Many of the local businesses have maps of the local bike trails (which is why there are “Bike” banners around town). There are awesome trails and I’m always meeting people from different areas who come to use them. There are nearly no empty storefronts in the downtown, so it is pretty vibrant… I guess success in urban areas and small towns aren’t always achieved the same way.

  6. Tim October 4, 2016 at 11:52 am #

    The sad reality is Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls are far better cycling communities than St Paul.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke October 4, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

      no they’re not. Saint Paul has amazing recreational trails and miles and miles of bike lanes that take you many useful places.

  7. Tim October 4, 2016 at 4:58 pm #

    Having lived and pedaled year round in both I totally disagree. Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls to a lesser degree, while not great, were much better places to ride daily and commute than in St Paul. For instance, Eau Claire actually had bike racks and either lanes or sharrows throughout downtown as well as routes to downtown in addition to several very nice trails. The roads were great and the car traffic was much less distressing. Eau Claire also has hands down some of the best rural rides I have ever done in my life anywhere in the country. When I moved to St. Paul in 2012 there weren’t even bike racks in downtown or any bike lanes or other cyclists that I could find? The roads were really terrible as well. The river trails were fun though, mostly empty so you could hammer some. They were often unplowed in winter though so I couldn’t commute like in Minneapolis. Unfortunately many were also more often than not closed for some reconstruction with little or no warning, so many commutes of mine were really messed up there as well. Not fun. Ohio Street, High Bridge and Ramsey were cool little hills though! Grand needs bike lanes or sharrows too. Cheers.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell October 5, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

      I agree. Chippewa Falls is much less stressful to ride around than St Paul. I’ve not ridden around Eau Claire but have visited numerous times and from driving and walking around and thinking about bicycling I’d think it also less stressful than St Paul, at least in the central areas and near the Uni.