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October 20, 2018

10/5/2018 10:36:00 AM
Kozelka & Wall Clothing, a Dodgeville retail mainstay for 40 years, to sell inventory and close doors as owners retire

Bill Wall, co-owner of Kozelka and Wall Clothing, announced today that he and his wife, Leesa, will sell their entire inventory and close their 40-year-old business as they prepare to retire and pursue other interests.
Their retirement sale opens to the public on Thursday. Kozelka & Wall Clothing, 133 N. Iowa St., will be open 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4:00 p.m. Sunday during the sale. It will return to normal business hours after the sale until the remaining inventory is sold.
"We have an opportunity to retire at a great time - with a successful business that enjoys tremendous support from the community ̶ and that's what we've decided to do," Wall said. "That's not the case for so many small businesses in today's competitive environment, so we know we're very blessed."
Wall has deep family roots in the clothing business. His first years in the trade were as a 10- or 11-year-old, sweeping the floors and tidying up merchandise in a Prairie du Chien store founded by his grandfather in 1927. The store employed not only his grandfather but also two uncles, his mother and father. Wall learned his tailoring skills from his father.
Wall graduated from Loras College in Dubuque in 1975 with a degree in business administration. He returned to the family business but wanted an opportunity to make his own mark. With a pilot's license already in hand, he considered earning a professional certificate in photography and combining the two skills. But when the Wall family learned that Dodgeville retailer Bob Campbell intended to sell his business after the unexpected loss of his son, they purchased his dry goods store and converted it into their second clothing business.
Wall was 25 when he took on the Dodgeville property in early September 1978 and had the store open by month's end. He recalls being driven by "conversations with two little old ladies" within days of the store opening.
"The evening before I opened, my family came to see the store and my grandmother stopped me. She put her hands on my cheeks and said, 'I'm so proud of you.' Five days after the store opened, another little old lady came in, looking for the dry goods store.
"She was all of five-foot-four and she said, 'Where's Campbell's?' I told it was gone and I was opening a clothing store. She put her hands on her hips and, in a huff, she said, 'It will never last.' I bent over and looked her in the eyes and said, 'Wanna bet?'" Wall recalled with a smile. "It was two different mentalities. One was encouragement and the other was a dare. It's all in how you react to them. I took them both as motivation."
Wall credits banker Terry Edwards and certified public accountant Howard Marklein as being very important to his company's long-term success, which included weathering the 1980s farm recession and ever-changing fashion trends. In 1992, Kozelka & Wall adapted to one big trend by producing and selling licensed sports-related clothing.
"I was fortunate to get Nike as an account and we've been very successful with Badgers, Packers and Brewers gear. We've done a lot of throwback baseball and football things, and it's been really fun to work with the local schools," he said. "It really saved us when Casual Fridays and the elimination of middle managers at so many businesses hit our suit sales hard."
The business also survived several other events, including the 1995 road construction projection that squeezed many local businesses and a 2007 fire in an adjacent building that destroyed the store's entire inventory. In both cases, Wall said, the tremendous support of loyal customers saved the day.
The Walls have been active in various local projects and causes. Bill Wall is especially proud of the store's 1992 special mention in the Main Street Façade Renovation Award category, his 1993 naming as an honorary board member of the Wisconsin Main Street Program and being named one of the National Sporting Goods Association's Successful Retailers of the Year.
Wall said it will be difficult to give up the business he and Leesa have operated for so long, especially considering the numerous friendships made over the years. At the same time, they're both looking forward to the next chapters in their lives. While some customers have marveled at how the couple could work together every day for so long, Wall said he and Leesa have always been "better together than we are apart."
"We're a great team. Together, we've raised three kids who are doing their own thing and successful," he said.
He's looking forward to picking up photography again, might study French and may even learn to play an instrument. Leesa will be busy helping the couple's youngest daughter, Kelsey, prepare for her 2019 wedding. And, both plan on biking, hiking, cross country skiing and even taking on some part-time work after the dust settles.
"When you've been working 60 to 80 hours a week for 40 years, it's like a freight train. You can't just completely stop all at once," Wall said.

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