Our Kenosha History: From peanuts to health nuts at 5824 Sixth Ave

Our Kenosha History: From peanuts to health nuts at 5824 Sixth Ave

The building which sits at 5824 Sixth Ave, now home to House of Nutrition and Wellness, was built in 1899 and has a rich history of different types of businesses in this location.

In 1900, it was known as 317 Main Street, and open as the Kenosha Fruit Store, owned by Domenic Unti (1869 – 1929) and Theodore Lencioni (1863 – 1938). They offered much more than fruit, with a fine selection of candies, nuts, and tobacco, along with the sweetest fruits.

In the early days of the 20th century, Unti & Lencioni were one of the oldest fruit and candy dealers in the city. When electricity became more prevalent around the city, they were among one of the early shops in town to provide frozen ice cream treats.

On a late March day in 1905, A.W. Greimer, a collector with the J&B Moos Cigar Company of Chicago, came to Kenosha to collect a $70 debt he claimed was owed by Unti and Lencioni. Greimer reached out to Kenosha attorney Chester Barnes to help facilitate a conversation with the fruit shop owners and the two entered the store to attempt to collect the bill.

Greimer approached Lencioni and words were exchanged. Words quickly turned to fists and Barnes attempted to step in. At this time, Unti walked into the room to find what probably looked like Greimer and Barnes attacking his partner. Unti grabbed a hammer and brought it down upon the head of Greimer, who immediately fell to the ground. When they saw the man was seriously injured, they dragged him to the YMCA building directly to the south (in the location where Friendship Park is today) and called on Dr. Cheever to attend to him. The wound bled profusely and required a number of stitches.

Before the police arrived, Unti took off and ended up hiding in Chicago for a few days before he decided to return to Kenosha and turn himself in to the local police. The ultimate punishment for Unti was not found, but the $70 was settled by a jury the next month – deciding that the bill had been paid.

In 1906, the partnership fell apart and Lencioni sold his interest in the business with plans to launch his own shop in another part of the city.

In 1916, Unti sold the business to the Andreotti family.

Some might think that a crackdown on cigarettes is more of a recent thing, but not true. Nicolas Andreotti was a victim of the crusade in the summer of 1917 against kids having access to this growing fad. He was charged with selling cigarettes to Arthur Butterfield, a minor, and was fined $25. City officials announce they are cracking down to revoke licenses of all dealers who sell what they called “paper pipes” to minors in Kenosha.

Andreotti would relocate to Burlington and father and son team Lorenzo (1871 – 1926)  and Joseph (1896 -1982) Lama purchased the business in 1918 and gave it the name Kenosha Confectionery – offering a fine line of candies, sweets, and Jersey ice cream.

Kenosha Evening News, December 24, 1900

If you asked nicely, they probably would offer you a little something special after prohibition outlawed alcohol in 1920. In February 1925, Kenosha Confectionery was another of the numerous local businesses which was raided by constables enforcing the new law. Alcohol was found under the counter, and over four gallons were found in the rear room of the shop. Co-owner Nello Fredeano was fined $250 plus costs and the business closed shortly after. Rumors still circulate this day about prohibition tunnels which connected this building to others in the Downtown area.

Within a month after the bust, the candy shop was out and National Tea Company moved in, selling groceries and home goods. This was one of two locations in town at the time for National Tea, with their second location in the 6200 block of 22nd Ave.

Kenosha Evening News, April 16, 1928

The National Tea Company was similar to the Kwik Trip of its time – meaning they were everywhere. The first one opened in Chicago in 1899, and by the end of the 1920’s, there would be 600 locations in the Chicago area alone, In 1930, National Tea would team up with Piggly Wiggly under the Quality Grocers banner and combined would have seven locations in Kenosha.

In the early 1930’s many of the new National Tea Grocers in town were featuring a new modern approach to shopping. Customers would be allowed to stroll through the aisles of products, picking them up and looking them over before decided to purchase. Previously, shoppers would stop in and tell the clerk what items they needed and wait as the clerk found the items. Now, this new “self-service” experience led to more impulse purchases and increased sales. Unfortunately, this location was too small to truly embrace these new shopping habits. Some of the very popular new National Tea Company self-service locations were 6221 22nd Ave (opened July 1931), 930 Washington Road (Sept. 1931), and 3824 Roosevelt Road (Sept 1933).

Kenosha Evening News, September 18, 1931

In October 1935, a carelessly tossed lit cigarette caused over $100 in damage when it ignited the awning of the National Tea Company and the heat of the blaze shattered the plate glass window.

With the new self-service supermarkets becoming more and more popular, the National Tea Company lost interest in this location soon after the fire. But a new up-and-coming shop would come in.

This photo features the building at 5824 Sixth Ave (center white) as vacant. So we can give a good guess that this was taken around 1935-36 after National Tea Company and before Becker’s Cigar Store

George M. Becker (1882 – 1966) opened his first Becker’s Cigar Store at the southwest corner of 56th Street and Sixth Ave around 1918 and for many old timers of Kenosha, they may well remember this location, as it remained there until the early 1990’s.

Becker’s became a very successful franchise throughout the eastern side of Kenosha, even (if you don’t mind a second Kwik Trip reference in this piece) having two stores right across the street from each other at the intersection of 56th and Sixth in the late 1920’s. The cigar stores sold much more than cigars, with a rich selection of newspapers, periodicals, candy, and gifts and would expand in the following years to include things like electric razors, firearms, and more.  In the summer of 1936, Becker’s opened an additional location in Downtown Kenosha at the 5824 Sixth Avenue location.

Kenosha News, December 17, 1936

It looks like there was some after hours shenanigans happening at Becker’s Cigar Store on Tuesday, September 3, 1940. Police officers raided the shop after receiving a tip that gambling was occurring. Eleven men were arrested that night with 28-year-old Eugene Moriarity being charged as the operator of the “gambling house.” The judge went easy on the gamblers, Moriarity was released on a $100 bond and the other 10 with a $25 bond. Although this was the first time he was busted at this location, local police were very familiar with Moriarity, having arrested him for gambling before and after this incident.

This crackdown on gambling was not something special to Kenosha. Across the United States, law enforcement, perhaps reminiscent of the old days of raiding alcohol saloons during prohibition, raged a war on gambling – even pinball games at this time were viewed as a menace to society by many, as players would gamble on games and receive prizes for playing.

It was around 1941 when Becker’s moved his shop across the street to the corner of the Orpheum building at 5831 Sixth Ave, and the 5824 location had new owners Paul Woodbury (1879 – 1947) and Orlando “Mike” Ochietti (1901 – 1983) who kept the same theme as Becker’s, but began going by Sixth Avenue Cigar Store.

On the evening of Saturday, August 25, 1951, Kenosha Detectives Michael Bruno and Paul Conradt raided the Sixth Avenue Cigar Store, and found seven men seated around a poker table with two decks of cards and $70 in cash on the table. Ochietti, who was not there at the time, paid the bonds for the men, totaling $226.50. This wasn’t the first time Ochietti was involved in a gambling bust, he was charged as being the operator of a gambling table in 1939 when he was busted in a raid in the upper apartment at 5721 Sixth Ave.

On August 27, 1953 another new shopping experience comes to Downtown Kenosha. Today, we can touch our phones and things will appear at our doorstep in a few days. Well, it wasn’t all that different back in the 1950’s.

The Spiegel catalog order office worked slightly similar to what Amazon is today, but without the glowing rectangle in your hand. Potential customers can stop in to the office and pick up a free 516-page catalog of thousands of items sold by Spiegel – their focus was women’s fashion (their target audience), but they also carried items like housewares, toys, tools, firearms, and electronics. Spiegel delivered its first mail-order catalog in 1905 and by 1925, had over 10 million customers.

The Great Depression and then World War II was disastrous for Spiegel due to labor shortages and product availability. In an effort of reversing the trend, Speigel began to open retail outlets, hoping to mimic the success of Sears and Montgomery Ward. One of their outlet stores opened right in Downtown Kenosha. Potential customers may have been apprehensive about ordering products directly from a catalog, now they could stop down at an actual store and have questions answered, be able to touch and see swatch samples, and place orders directly with company representatives. Spiegel also offered customer refunds or returns if not completely satisfied, a convenient credit plan with monthly payments, and speedy delivery – with most items in the store within 48 hours for pick-up or home delivery.

Kenosha News, March 23, 1955

After some initial success with the brick-and-mortar retail, the costs began to outweigh the benefits and by the mid-1950’s, Spiegel re-directed their focus to mail-order sales.

With Spiegel gone, Barlow’s China Shop, a longtime gift store which had moved to a spot two doors south at 5828 Sixth Ave in 1950, were moving once again to 5824 in late 1956. It wouldn’t last long for Barlow’s China Shop, by 1960 the store closed after over 40 years in business.

Kenosha News, February 9, 1960

By 1961, a kitchen is installed in the building and the restaurant-era begins. On February 13, 1961, Rocco Scola (1922 – 1998) opened his eponymous restaurant, specializing in the American and Italian foods and claiming to be the best pizza in town, and originally open for 24 hours a day.

Kenosha News, February 10, 1961

Scola, a Cosenza, Italy native had great success in the restaurant business, opening a second location at 8040 Sheridan Road in the early 1970’s.

After almost 18 years in business, Scola puts the Downtown business up for sale in January 1979. His southside location would remain popular for several more years, until Rocco decided to retire in 1991 and it became home to the Dakota Rose Steak House. Rocco would spend his later years enjoying retirement in Scottsdale, Arizona.

In 1979, The Express restaurant opened and in 1980 they promoted that “Fran is back!” (we could not find out who Fran was).

On a summer day in 1980, a special guest hung out outside of the Express Restaurant. A prize-winning gold-plated dragster valued at $250,000 at the time was on display throughout the day on July 2, 1980. Tony Ruffalo and John Ehlen of Kenosha parked their car on the south end of the mall in front of the restaurant for all to enjoy that day. This top fuel dragster, featured in the March 1980 Car Craft magazine, made its debut at the US Nationals at Indianapolis in September 1979. It reached speeds of 240 mph.

The gold car and the return of Fran didn’t provide any luck for the Express Restaurant, they had closed by early 1981.

Throughout the 1980’s, the building was home to numerous restaurants. First, Achille Cortese (who would later successfully open and operate Cortese’s Restaurant on north Sheridan Road) operated La Nostra restaurant in 1981.

Kenosha News. June 15, 1983

In 1984, owners Benito Cistaro and Tony Spallato remodeled the restaurant and opened Benito’s Restaurant, offering weekday breakfast and late night pizza delivery until 2am seven days a week.

Kenosha News, April 4, 1984

By 1986, the theme changes at the restaurant when new owners, husband and wife team Jose and Delfina Anzaldua open Paloma Blanca Mexican restaurant.

In 1987, the building fell vacant during one of the darkest periods in the history of Downtown Kenosha. After shopping trends were favoring the new strip malls and a failed pedestrian mall drove away more businesses, the downtown neighborhood was suffering. 5824 was just another of numerous vacant storefronts for about eight years.

The ovens were gone for good by 1995 when the Vanity Beauty Salon, previously located just around the corner at 608 59th Street moved in. By 1996, owner Desanka “Daisy” Protic changes the name to Daisy’s Vanity Shoppe.

In 2004, Mark Wistar and Dave Hankins were looking to invest in property in Downtown Kenosha and saw that Protic had the building for sale.

“We saw this building with a parking lot and a nice little park next to it so we decided to buy it. Much of the south end of town was a bit rugged, so it was a bit of a risk, but the area was taking a turn for the better,” Wistar told Downtown Kenosha Magazine.

Wistar and Hankins did not have a concrete idea of what to do with the space, but with it being a hair salon for nearly the past decade, it would take very little renovation to bring in a new salon.

After 34 years of owning Flair Styling Studio, 4913 75th St., Frank Fani (1947 – 2020) decided to open a second location – The Flair on Sixth, in Downtown Kenosha.

Kenosha News, May 15, 2005

Scott Yance became interested in the hair salon business as a kid when he would hang out at his local barbershop growing up in Kenosha. He learned his stylist chops while working at the Flair Styling Studio and his talents landed him in trade shows and an apprenticeship with Vidal Sassoon in Los Angeles. When he decided to return to Kenosha to raise a family, he and business partner, Paul Wiggins, opened the Kwof hair salons in Milwaukee and Glendale. In May 2005, Yance and Higgins took over the Flair on Sixth and opened their third Kwof hair salon at 5824 Sixth Ave.

The Kenosha Nutritional Food Store opened in the late 1950’s in the uptown neighborhood at 2321 63rd Street. In early 1961, it was renamed House of Nutrition and continued to offer a complete line of quality natural, dietician, and organic health foods.

Around 1982, Stephen Haught (1946-2018) took over ownership of the business.

After decades of success in the uptown area, the House of Nutrition moves downtown in August 2007 to its current location, with Steve Ogren as manager.

Kenosha News, June 26, 2012

In November 2014, Hankins and Wistar take over ownership of the business in their building and updates the business name to The House of Nutrition and Wellness.

House of Nutrition and Wellness, 2014 (Facebook)

In November 2015, a mural is installed on the south side of the building alongside Friendship Park displaying an AMC Gremlin and the phrase “Greetings From Kenosha.” The mural was painted by artist Aurora Contreras with the help of Kathy DiCello and Margaret Heller.

“Our well-trained staff continue to provide knowledge to the community and offer professional strength organic vitamin supplements, herbal formulas, and natural remedies that we have continued to rely on for decades,” Wistar told us. “We have many locally made products including Living Full Kombucha, honey and organic protein powders. Also available are eco-Certified organic essential oils, House of Nutrition’s exclusive Hemp Rescue CBD product line, and Caribbean Sea Moss products.”

Wistar also added that The House of Nutrition and Wellness has a special anniversary approaching soon.

“This June 30th will make The House of Nutrition’s 40th year of being incorporated. To celebrate, we will have a three-day celebration starting Thursday, June 29th through Saturday, July 1st. Go to our website and Facebook page to find out more!”

By Jason Hedman

The author thanks the following people for their valuable help with this story: Mark Wistar, Scott Yance, John Fox, Daisy Protic, Jonathan Martens. 

Top photo courtesy of Visit Kenosha