Gilbert’s Sentry has always been Antigo’s “Goldilocks store.”
Antigo’s “Goldilocks store.” From the day Lee and Janis Gilbert arrived in Antigo, through the shift to the “new building” in 1976 and, now under the Gilbert’s Sentry moniker, the store has always been just right, giving patrons what they want and need on Antigo’s famous “south side.”
And this month, Tammy and Butch Gilbert are celebrating their 30th anniversary of ownership of the three-generation store.
“We’re excited,” Tammy Gilbert said. “It’s been a long time and we’re looking for a long future as well.”
Thirty years is a long time for a business, but its barely a blink for the venerable southside market.
It all started when Lee and Janis Gilbert arrived with their five children in Antigo in 1967 from Berlin, with partner Emery Williams, and purchased the Easy Way Super Valu at 109 Superior St. from the Super Valu Corporation.
Gilbert was no stranger to retail, coming to Antigo after managing a store owned by Williams in Berlin.
“The name of the store will be Antigo Super Valu,” the Antigo Daily Journal reported at the time. “Employees will be the same as under the former management. A grand opening is planned in about two months.”
The store operated successfully for years, but concerns about Spring Brook flooding prompted the Gilberts to shift the location a block south to 115 S. Superior Street, in 1976, when it was opened as Lee’s SuperValu, operating 24 hours a day.
The Gilberts were joined by Mayor Francis Jones and Antigo Chamber of Commerce executive Gene Preboski and SuperValu division manager Michael Horn for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting.
Lee and Janis’ son, Butch, started in the business as a “pop boy,” collecting the returnable soda bottles, which were worth a deposit of 10 cents each. He was also on hand when Butch’s became the first Antigo supermarket to use scanners, which Tammy recalled were “a nightmare” at first.
Lee Gilbert sold the store in 1988 and it became a Super 3, but Tammy and Butch remained involved in the quickly shifting grocery trade in Antigo on the north side.
In February 1990, Super 3 owner Danny Jacobson, came to them with a proposal.
“He asked us if we wanted to buy the store back,” Tammy said, admitting “we had lots of hesitation.”
It became Butch’s ShopRite and in 1998, Butch’s SuperValu, with the move to the Gilbert’s Sentry name coming three years ago.
But for employees and customers, the names on the marquee were little more than a switch in how to write or cash a check, Tammy said.
The store has always offered an exceptional mix of general grocery, and dairy items, beer, wine and liquor, and perhaps the most delicious bakery, hot and cold deli selection in Antigo.
And it’s all within walking distance for many customers, with a tiny parking lot that means no one is ever more than a few steps from their vehicle.
“Lee always said you could shop for a half-hour but when you want to check-out you’re ready to go,” Tammy said.
“The store has weathered the ups and downs of the changing retail environment, including the reconstruction of Superior Street right past its main entrance. That’s been possible,’’ Tammy said, with the assistance of suppliers such as the Listle, Vavruska and Geno McKenna Distributing family beer and liquor distributors, Antigo Candy, and Fred Berner and the Antigo Daily Journal, Butch’s key marketing partner.
“We couldn’t have done it without them,” Tammy said.
As a small-town grocer, the store has been witness to great joy, including weddings and births, including on Wednesday a visit by a ‘blue-eyed little cutie” who gave Tammy a cherubic smile.
“We’ve had people who work here move on to become doctors and lawyers and CPAs,” Tammy said. “This is a great first job because it teaches important customer skills and how to develop a rapport with people. I get a lot of thank you notes.”
But there has been sadness too, when a longtime employee or customer passes away. They, Tammy said, remain in their hearts.
Today, Gilbert’s Sentry continues to thrive. It has a robust brat barn in the summertime, raising money for a myriad of causes, accepts All Saints script, operates a spring and summer greenhouse and remains active in the Antigo Area Chamber of Commerce.
Its charitable pursuits are legendary, including the regular purchase of a championship animal at the 4-H and FFA Market Animal Sale held annually as part of the Langlade County Fair, with thank you notes from groups as diverse as Peace Lutheran School students regularly filling the mailbox.
Tammy and Butch’s sons continue to be involved, continued a role they played from a young age. Eric manages the Antigo store while Jeff is in charge of the family supermarket in Hortonville.
And it continually reinvents its self to meet the needs of its customers.
“We encourage everyone to always shop local first,” Tammy said. “Our goal is to always remain ‘just right’ for our customers’ needs.”
Source: Antigo Daily Journal, March 2020 Prime Time