“I Got It At Fischberger’s!”

Maybe it was the approaching holidays that seemed to wash the little variety store on Holton St. with the muted nostalgia of the 1950s… that golden time of peace and stability when the wealthiest Americans paid 90 percent of their income in taxes…

by Jan Christensen

Fischberger’s Variety store does harken back to another time. A time when kids got toys for Christmas that didn’t break that afternoon. Toys that are still being played with today.

Look up on that shelf – there’s a package of alphabet blocks just like your older brother got when he was two…then passed on to you, then to your kids, now to his grandkids. There’s a metal wind-up Rocket Racer. A variety of wooden train sets and bins filled with wooden track sections. Sturdy childsized brooms and dustmops and ironing boards. Little Junior Chef stainless steel cooking and baking pans. And Jolly Roger shower curtain and wastebasket sets. And glow-in-the-dark plastic jellyfish Christmas tree ornaments.

Wander a little further and it becomes clear that there’s more going on in this little store than nostalgia. There’s whimsy; a taste for the quirky; and an appreciation for wellmade, utilitarian objects.

You’ll find cookie cutters, wooden rolling pins and stoneware baking dishes in the kitchen supply area. Sturdy whisks and real rubber spatulas – not those nasty plastic ones that get all soft and gooey after a month or two.

Where does this stuff come from? Look, there’s fabric back in the sewing section that’s just like your grandmother’s chenille bedspread.

“We’re a small store, so we can only buy from small manufacturers, and they tend to do a lot of things that are fun and funky,” explains Sarah Ditzenberger. She and husband River were busy working in their store on opening day, November 24.

Sarah and River had been thinking about opening a variety store for about a year. Then Sarah decided to get the ball rolling when she had a week off from her most recent passion, the Brew City Bruisers roller derby league. (A word to you insiders: rumor has it that the mysterious Sea Hag will be leaving at the end of the season to pursue other interests.)

They rented a newly refurbished storefront at 2445 N. Holton. Cream city brick interior walls set off the olive, lavender and orange painted surfaces. Big front windows unite street and shop interior. “I know them and them and them…and them!” Sarah points across Holton, indicating the houses with their twinkling Christmas lights.

A mom and two kids come in. The kids immediately begin to play with the toys. It’s okay… they won’t hurt them.

“This is just too cute,” says the woman catching sight of a particular toy. She laughs, “Mom’s goin’ back in the day…”

“We want to have something for everybody,” says Sarah, as we examine a display of Bindi Body Art presson jewelry. “I want to have more fun things for teenage girls, and magazines and stuff that will interest young guys.” We walk past a display of Funky Fresh Air Fresheners for your car – choose from three motifs: bowling, Jolly Roger, and Jesus.

This isn’t Sarah’s first store. She ran Vitamin Q, a “retro ‘80s” store (in the 1990s!) in Madison. “We used to drive to Nebraska and come back with a car packed full of clothes,” she recalls.

Sarah’s skill at “thrifting” is apparent at Fischberger’s as well. There are racks of cotton shirts and pleated skirts and funky winter coats. Hand-made quilts and crocheted afghans – all in perfect shape.

She shops the thrift stores once a week. “It’s a lot of fun, but a lot of work, too,” Sarah admits. “You come home with huge bags full of stuff, then you have to clean it up and get it ready for sale.” There’s a lot of care and attention that goes into the resale portion of Fischberger’s, and it shows. “We really want to have something for everyone,” Sarah says. River is concentrating on marking prices. He consults his inventory list. “Gee, I’ve got a lot to do yet!”

“We want to keep the inventory fresh,” Sarah adds. “We want to serve everybody in the neighborhood, and keep them coming back to see what’s new. We’re another fun Riverwest destination you can walk to. Where you can spend a couple of bucks – or just look around – and have a good time.”

Dear Santa, if you should happen to stop at Fischberger’s, there’s this Death Valley souvenir plate…

If You Go:
Fischberger’s Variety Story
(414) 263-1991
2445 N. Holton St.
Mon. – Sat.
10 am to 6 pm
Sarah has stocked the store with a variety of handy items for the home.

Riverwest Currents online edition – December, 2006