By Kris Leonhardt
Gustav A. Karau emigrated from West Prussia in 1884. As a journeyman carpenter, Karau saw Marshfield ripe with opportunity following the Great Fire of 1887 that wiped out a good portion of the city.
Finding work plentiful in Marshfield, Gustav settled in and built a home with wife, Augusta, at 112 W. Sixth St. The family remained there for a little less than a decade before relocating to Mannville, just north of Marshfield.
At the age of 12, Gustav’s youngest son, Reinhold, began unloading grain for the Uthmeier-Hintz General Store, later learning the grocery trade. He worked for Weber Brothers Grocery, before becoming manager of Marshfield’s two A&P grocery stores.
He was later promoted to troubleshooter for the A&P chain’s northern Wisconsin division.
Upon returning to Marshfield to court and marry his wife, Ruth, he went into partnership in a business they named Reinie Karau’s Food Market at 323 S. Central Ave. The store opened in May 1932.
Nine years later, the company expanded to a larger store at 333 S. Central Ave, where the front of the store housed grocery and produce and the back of the store became the first location of Mitten’s Appliance.
When parking became tight for the grocery store, Karau and his partners looked to other options.
As the property on the east side of Sixth Street and South Central Avenue became available, Karau and his partners razed the old Washington School facilities there and built Washington Square Shopping Center on the site. Karau’s partners in the project were Tony Knott, Henry Maurer, Elmer Schreiner, Ivo Umhoefer, William Uthmeier, and Ben Wing.
The shopping center became the longtime home of Karau’s IGA, Pioneer Bank, Wing’s Drug Store, and Wisconsin Gas Company.
After Reinhold’s death, two of his children, Tom and Judy, became major players in the grocery business.
In 1972, Karau’s Inc. added a warehouse foods store at 1105 N. Central Ave. There, customers marked, loaded, and bagged their own groceries.
The Washington Square location now serves as the home of Pick ‘N Save. The 1105 N. Central Ave. location was torn down, but once stood between McDonald’s and Marshfield Mall.
Authors Note: The Marshfield Hub City Times is currently working on a paperback historic retrospective on the Wood County Asylum/Hospital and Norwood Health Center. We are seeking input from our readers. If you have stories or photos regarding the facilities, please stop in and see us at 214 W. 5th Street, Suite B, Marshfield, or submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org.