- Associated Press - Sunday, October 15, 2017

ELKADER, Iowa (AP) - As the nation reeled from the devastation of the U.S. Civil War, a small Clayton County tailor shop quietly moved into the grocery business.

Clayton Center’s only dry goods and general merchandise store burned down in 1867, prompting German immigrant Fred Wilke to expand his wares. Thus began a tradition that has spanned a century and a half.

Now Dave Wilke owns and operates Wilke’s Grocery Store, which moved around eastern Iowa a few times before settling in Elkader in 1961. Dave is the fifth generation of Wilkes to oversee the shop.

“We’re just really thankful for the customers who supported us over the years,” Dave Wilke told the Telegraph Herald .

Dave Wilke started out his retail career as assistant manager of a department store in Minnesota after earning a business degree. He and his wife, Becky, eventually decided to embark on a two-year mission trip to the Virgin Islands.

But before they left, Becky learned she was pregnant and plans changed.

“(We) just didn’t think it was a safe move (for her) to come down pregnant,” Dave Wilke said.

Instead, Dave Wilke and his father, Tom, moved up the timeline to build a new store in Elkader and Dave Wilke went to work in the family operation. Dave Wilke also became manager of the store, a position he’s held for 35 years.

He attributes the continued success of the store to good service supplied by good employees.

“Those sorts of things matter,” Dave Wilke said. “People will come back because of how they were treated.”

The generous hours - Wilke’s is open six days per week until 9 p.m. - and good selection have helped as well, according to Curtis Ruhser, president of the Elkader Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

“It’s a convenient place to go shopping,” said Ruhser. “The product mix is awesome.”

Ruhser admits he is a little biased - his second cousin is Dave Wilke’s father, Tom Wilke. But there’s no denying that Wilke’s has a range of products not often sold on shelves of small town shops, he said.

“They’ve really made a fantastic effort to get a lot of new items when it comes to organic items, healthful choices such as gluten-free products and things of that nature,” Ruhser said.

Dave Wilke didn’t abandon his desire for faith-based mission work.

In the 1990s, he started participating in short-term mission trips in Eastern Europe. He now sits on the board of International Messengers, which has sent more than 200 missionaries to 20 countries.

Dave Wilke, now 59, and Becky have four children, but it’s too soon to say whether any will carry on the family business.

“I have three siblings (and) I was the only one that chose to do this,” Dave Wilke said. “I have four kids, and there’s zero pressure. I want them to do what they want to be doing.”

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com


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