German born Wendell Dagenbach moved to Kenosha in 1885 at the age of 32 and became a successful cigarmaker in Downtown Kenosha. Dagenbach also had an eye for real estate and scooped up properties on the west side of what was then Milwaukee Avenue (now Seventh Ave) and north of Middle Street (50th St).
The properties he would oversee construction of in the late 1890’s included four structures along Milwaukee Ave; the corner lot, which we now call the Dagenbach building at the corner of 50th and Seventh (and the focus of today’s story), two buildings that are now gone to the north, and what is now The Coffee Pot.
The Dagenbach building opened in 1898 as two storefronts, one on the south side with the entry in the corner near the current doorway, and a 20’x70’ storefront on the north side of the building. Wendell Dagenbach and his family resided in the upper apartment.
The first business to find a home in this building was Dagenbach’s Cigar Factory. The north spot was rented to a local clothing salesman B. Herrmann.
Herrmann opened his first clothing store at 39 North Main Street (currently 5118 Sixth Ave, now Captain Mike’s) as early as 1895 and in 1901 he expanded his business with a millinery shop in the north part of the Dagenbach building. (If you are like many, you have no clue what a millinery shop is, it’s women’s hats).
Within a year, Herrmann closed his Main Street location and focused on his new spot on Milwaukee Avenue. But it didn’t last long. By 1903, B. Herrmann & Company was declared bankrupt and all of his merchandise was sold at a bank auction.
We find two other individuals named B.Herrmann during this era in Kenosha with no known connection with this original Herrmann. The first, Barney Herrmann (1889-1979), was brother to pharmacist Jake Herrmann and second one, Bernard Herrmann (1886-1967), was a longtime Kenosha bartender.
We will learn soon that another Herrmann was deeply involved in this building, but a deep search has not provided any familial relation between B. Herrmann and pharmacist Jake Herrmann.
By 1904, Dagenbach was looking for a new retailer to take the other side of his shop. Eventually, he teamed up with a partner to open Lauer & Dagenbach clothing store.
Dagenbach died in 1920 at the age of 68 and the ownership of the building passed to his son Julius Dagenbach. The building will remain owned by the Dagenbach family until Julius’ widow Anna Dagenbach sold it in 1939.
In 1914, The Mayer Drug pharmacy found its first home at 4807 Seventh Ave, now an unoccupied storefront still standing at the northeast corner of 48th Place and Seventh Ave. Within a year, they opened a second location on Kenosha’s west side near what is now 4824/4828 22nd Ave.
In April 1920, Mayer Drug leased the business space in the south end of the Dagenbach building and moved their original north side location just over a block down the road.
The job of moving thousands of bottles and numerous drug supplies a block to the south was accomplished by manager Jacob J. “Jake” Hermann (1891-1962) without interrupting regular sales to customers.
Hermann began his career at the Hurd Drug Store in Downtown Kenosha as a delivery boy in 1913 and moved to Kradwell Drug Co in 1915.
In 1917, at the age of 26, he found his home as the manager of the Mayer Drug pharmacy.
Mayer Drug was a big name in Kenosha throughout the 20th century. On October 9, 1920, Mayer opened their third, and perhaps most recognizable location, at the northeast corner of 56th Street and Sixth Avenue.
Mayer Drug remained in their Downtown location under the iconic sign until July 1992 when they moved to the Lakeshore Medical Building, next to St. Catherine’s Hospital. In 2013, it was purchased by another independent, Good Value Pharmacy.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Mayer Drug continued to serve the community for several decades at this location, and Jacob J. Herrmann remained on as the local friendly pharmacist who moonlights as a city council member and active community leader.
Early in 1939, Herrmann took over the Mayer Drug store that he worked at for nearly 20 years and made it his own under the name of Herrmann Drugs.
Herrmann’s carried a complete line of quality drug products and created accurate and prompt compounding of prescriptions. Herrmann offered a full stock of household and sports items, as well as smoking materials, fountain service, candies, and cosmetics.
In the summer of 1955, Herrmann, age 64, decides to retire and sells the business to Joe Burnett (his son-in-law) and Robert Thomas. Burnett and Thomas no longer offer prescription service and call their new store Herrmann’s Gifts and Variety Store. They would remain serving the northside of Downtown Kenosha until early 1966.
Stephen Gulan (1935-2016) had an interest in the Kenosha community, being heavily involved in numerous organizations including the Kenosha Chamber of Commerce and as the Lakeshore Business Improvement chairman.
Gulan was a busy guy, as he worked for 32 years at American Motors, he looked into real estate and opening his own business. Having looked at a few other properties around Kenosha, Gulan came across the Dagenbach building and saw its immediate potential.
In March 1967 he applied for a liquor license with plans to open a store, under a corporation he shared with his wife, Marion Gulan, titled MB/SG Corp.
Park Liquors opened soon thereafter and became the essential party shop for Downtown Kenosha for decades.
By 1996, Gulan had recently become widowed and was looking for a change in life. In early 1997, he shut the doors at Park Liquors for the last time.
Gulan opened Marion’s Pub & Restaurant at 506-508 56th Street (currently Slip 56) in 1998, named after his late wife. But his business was shut down and license revoked after about six weeks in a controversial fiasco between Gulan and the Kenosha City Council.
In 2014, another lifelong Kenoshan, Dr. Erin Merritt was on the search for a new business venture. In November 2014, she brought an independent pharmacy back to Downtown Kenosha, and back to the Dagenbach building in particular, with her new store – Modern Apothecary.
The exterior and interior of the building was given a much needed makeover, costing over $150,000, with Merritt modeling her new shop after European-style drug stores. Indispensable assistance from artists Brandon Minga and Dean Tawwater helped provide Merritt with the vintage aesthetic she desired.
A visit to her charming shop feels like stepping back in time to when Jake Herrmann had moved into the Mayer Drug shop in the same location 100 years prior. An amalgamation of historical, eclectic, and essential items complement the gorgeous hardwood floors and large windows.
For the past eight years, Modern Apothecary has been vital to the area, providing pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and other needs to the community in a congenial environment.
But it looks like there might be another change coming soon to the Dagenbach building. In 2019, Alex Bee and his family, current owners of Ono Sushi, purchased the building from Clovis Point and they have announced they do not intend to renew the lease for Merritt’s pharmacy.
“We have been outgrowing our space in the past years and are need of a change anyway,” Dr. Merritt optimistically told Downtown Kenosha Magazine. “We are planning on staying in Downtown Kenosha, but it is still a process in the works. We hope to have an announcement of some kind this fall.”
By Jason Hedman
Hedman is a Downtown Kenosha resident, local historian,
artist, podcast host and occasional writer.
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