From family project to thriving business
Lisa Gavronski is living the dream. She’s crafted a career for herself doing something she is passionate about, she works on a schedule of her choosing, and to top it off – her daily commute is about 20 feet. Gavronski was born and raised in Appleton and graduated from Appleton West High School in 1979. She majored in housing and interiors at UW-Stevens Point but went into the banking field after college. “I got a job in a bank at college, got in banking, worked my way up into a management position, and worked in that field 28 years,” Gavronski said.
Ten years ago, Gavronski, her husband Kelly, her parents and brother purchased a building in an older Appleton residential neighborhood at 611 N. Morrison St. “It was built in 1906 as a meat market and grocery store by Otto Sprister. He and his wife lived upstairs but eventually built the house next door and still ran the business,” Gavronski said. “My brother wanted a family project to refurbish, maybe live upstairs. The plan really was to resell it and make some money.” Because everyone in the family held other jobs at the time, refurbishing the building was a long process. “When we bought it, it was in pretty bad shape,” she said. “It took us six years. Then my brother transferred to New York. I always wanted to have a little business, a little store, this was my passion. So, this was my opportunity to give it a try. My husband said, ‘Go for it,’ so I left the bank in September of 2012.”
The Gavronskis are now the sole owners of the building which was christened Cedar Harbor. The name sounds like a business you’d find in Door County, and in fact, the store is reminiscent of shops up in that area. The store features what Gavronski describes as eclectic decor. “I love eclectic,” Gavronski said. “I love a mix, old, new, and I like to create and make things and my husband likes to build. I like to treasure hunt for old and reclaim it. People are throwing things out, if I see something on the side of the road, (I’ll pick it up). I’m saving things from the landfill.”
When Cedar Harbor first opened they were selling items that Gavronski had collected and things that she and her husband, who enjoys woodworking, had built. It blossomed from there, she said. “I just started displaying, creating, adding things and I order new, “ she said. They now feature a large selection of handmade merchandise and items ranging from stepping stones to housewares, jewelry, gifts, home furnishings, furniture that’s been reclaimed (spruced up, cleaned up and fixed up), accessories, wall decor, cards, kitchenware, vases, even food, such as salsa, that’s made in Wisconsin.
In 2014 Gavronski and her husband, who are empty nesters, sold the large home they had in Neenah and moved into the completely remodeled apartment above the shop. “We were yearning for simplicity. We love our simple little life.” The property has plenty of space for the couple to work on creating merchandise. There is a full basement with a big workshop for Gavronski’s husband to do his woodworking projects – making things such as cedar planter boxes and benches which are on display in the backyard during warmer weather seasons. Gavronski does her creative work upstairs. She makes all of the wreaths, paper and burlap products, pillows, and signs.
Cedar Harbor has a loyal customer base. People stop in on a regular basis because about every two weeks or so Gavronski rearranges and adds more merchandise to the floor so the place looks different most every time they come in. As a service to their customers, they open up the fenced-in backyard of Cedar Harbor in the summer for events such as showers, girls’ nights out and fundraisers. Gavronski sources items for her store from a variety of places including estate sales, flea markets, online, and the Madison market which is held each January and features mostly handmade merchandise. She does take some things on consignment and will buy items from local artisans at wholesale.
“I love to be creative, I love to rearrange, I love to create things, and meeting so many new people has been fabulous.”
– Lisa Gavronski, owner
With her business approaching its five-year anniversary, Gavronski theorized why they are doing so well. “I’m different,” she said. “I think it’s the eclectic mix of a little bit of this and little bit of that. There is a lot of a one-of-a-kind. There’s the personalized service, the relationships you create with people. I had a customer come in who said, ‘I’m just having a bad day and I needed to come somewhere and get happy. I can’t buy anything but I just want to walk through and feel better.’ To me that was a wonderful compliment. I think it’s the atmosphere, the homey kind of tucked away in the middle of a residential neighborhood feel.”
Having her dream job, Gavronski said she will do this until she can’t. “I love to be creative, I love to rearrange, I love to create things, and meeting so many new people has been fabulous.”