When the Stove Shop participated in last year’s Downtown Christmas Extravaganza, it brought numerous people to the store who had never been there before.
“So many people who came in said, ‘We didn’t know you were here,’” said Dave Wildenradt, who owns the Stove Shop with Brian Bauernfeind. “We were excited to have them come in and see what we offer.”
Located a little off the beaten path at 225 N. Second St. in Pekin, the Stove Shop has joined a group of small businesses to promote downtown and bring people into their unique specialty shops. Wildenradt said the shop will continue to participate in the annual Christmas Extravaganza.
Feeling something like a hidden gem, Wildenradt said the business does minimal advertising but relies on word-of-mouth from satisfied customers.
“The way we’ve always developed our business is one customer at a time,” he said. “We go out and do the best job we can for our customers, and we depend on them to tell the story, and it’s worked. We’ve done that for 28 years.”
Wildenradt and Bauernfeind bought the Stove Shop from former owner Glen Bonk in 1990. Bonk had started the business in the mid-’70s.
“When I moved to Delavan in 1979, I eventually put a wood stove in my house that I bought from Glen,” Wildenradt said. He and Bauernfeind bought City Coal and Asphalt in 1985, which was primarily a summer business. Five years later, they asked Bonk if he would sell them the Stove Shop, which they moved to their Second Street location and initially operated as a winter business.
“It had been located on a dead-end street at the end of Prince Street and primarily sold wood stoves back then,” Wildenradt recalled.
Around the time that Wildenradt and Bauernfeind took over the Stove Shop, “direct vent” gas fireplaces and stoves that could be vented through a wall or roof rather than a chimney were becoming popular.
“That was the technology we learned when we bought the business. But we’ve always had a clientele in rural areas and smaller towns that’s geared toward wood products,” Wildenradt said. “So we have really been known for our wood products as well, and we sell outside wood-fired boilers and a lot of wood stoves.”
Other products people might be surprised to find at the Stove Shop are pellet stoves and grills, which are good for smoking different kinds of meat. “For some reason, that hasn’t really caught on here, but they are very popular in the Northeast and Northwest. People in those areas are a little bit more conservative, and they appreciate recyclable products. So you have pellets that are made from wood that’s being reclaimed more or less,” Wildenradt said.
The Stove Shop also sells everything in gas from gas logs to free-standing stoves to gas fireplaces and gas inserts. On a rainy Monday in May, Wildenradt was preparing an old house in Lewistown for a gas insert in an existing fireplace.
“What people have found over the years is fireplaces are beautiful, but they’re not efficient. So the industry has made products to be retrofitted into an existing fireplace to give you more heat and to be more efficient,” he explained.
The Stove Shop also is known for its portable wood-fired Chicago Brick pizza oven, which they bring to local festivals and events. The shop also sells the pizza ovens for anyone who wants their own.
“I mounted ours on a trailer, and people can book that for a festival or private event,” Wildenradt said. “Usually, we get a set up fee and then charge a reduced fee per pizza. So the cost depends on how many pizzas you eat.”
Noting that the Stove Shop is technically a destination store, Wildenradt said many of its customers search online first and come to the store knowing what they want and looking for the expertise to make it happen.
“We pretty much go wherever a customer has a need,” he said. “I have actually sold outdoor boilers to local people who are building homes in Missouri. And I went down there and helped set it up.”
The shop currently employs four full-time staff and calls in a few part-timers as needed.
“We’re a small business, and we go everywhere. But it’s dealing with the people that really makes a difference,” Wildenradt said. “We really try to take care of our customers on a personal level.”
For more information, visit the Stove Shop website at www.thestoveshopofpekin.com or call 309-346-0880.