WEST MILTON — For nearly a century, Wertz Variety Store has served generations of locals and their families and has been a constant presence in downtown West Milton.
Founded by H.L. Wertz Sr. in 1927, the store is celebrating 90 years of continuous operation this year.
In a proclamation honoring this milestone, the West Milton village council noted that the store has kept its doors open through the Great Depression, World War II, and the advent of the dollar store.
After all that time, the Wertz family knows a thing or two about customer service.
It’s that personal service you don’t get at big box stores that keeps people coming back to the store, fourth generation owner Georgia Woolery said.
“We listen,” Woolery said.
Stocked from floor to ceiling with just about anything from crafting supplies and household goods, to old-fashioned toys, games and floral arrangements, stepping into Wertz Variety Store with its creaking floorboards is like stepping back in time.
“You can’t look like the big box stores,” she said. “Customers will ask for things and you look to see what’s trending, what’s new.”
Woolery has worked in the store for nearly 30 years and has enjoyed getting to know her customers over the years.
“They’re the best thing about this business,” she said.
Many of the store’s customers have been coming in since they were children, she added.
“We just have a lot of great loyal customers that have come in for years,” Woolery said. “You know, some customers if we don’t see them once a week, we get worried. Somebody will say, ‘Have you seen so and so?’”
Wertz gets its fair share of new customers too, Woolery said. There are more downtown businesses these days and a lot more people coming to enjoy a day of shopping in West Milton, she added.
There are also quite a few people who stop in for that old-fashioned five-and-dime experience, she said.
Woolery said the store owes much of its success to the people who help run it, like long-time employee Della Fagg, who said she came in to help out 30 years ago and never left.
“I’ve got good help. I couldn’t do it without them,” Woolery said.
Woolery, who admitted that she never intended to come back to the family business, has followed in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, H.L. Wertz Sr., who founded the store, her grandfather H.L. Wertz Jr., her father Kay and her brother Wes.
Though she’s officially worked there for the last 26 years, she remembers helping her dad around the store when she and her siblings were children.
“We laugh about it. We remember when we were kids, we used to come in after we closed because we had to mark merchandise,” she recalled. “Now I understand why we used to do that, because Dad was probably swamped during the day.”
Her brother Wes started working in the store right out of high school 46 years ago and now runs the hardware store next door with two of their sisters. Woolery left the family business for a while and held other jobs, but eventually found her way back.
“I was never going to work here,” Woolery laughed.
Until he passed away in 2015, Woolery and her father Kay ran the store together.
“It’s been a little different. I always ran everything by him,” she said. “Everything I learned, I learned from him. How to run the place and how to treat customers.”
A lot has changed over the years — the shop has grown, expanding into what used to be Lair’s Market next door — but some things stay the same, Woolery said. She still uses her dad’s old desk, which was once in Charles “Boss” Kettering’s office until it was remodeled and a family member who worked for him brought it home.
And on the wall outside the office is a framed receipt signed by her grandfather on her mother’s side that was made out to her other grandfather, H.L. Wertz.
It’s a little too soon to start planning for the store’s 100th anniversary in 10 years, but Woolery said she’s looking forward to it.
“I’ll probably still be here,” she added.
Reach Cecilia Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.