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WAFER renovation in La Crosse means building’s vintage painted ads won’t be staying

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Painted billboards that were forgotten behind new walls on a George Street building have been exposed this week. 

The hand-painted signs for beer and dairy products won’t be around much longer, though, since the former supermarket is being remodeled for the WAFER food pantry. 

The Kingsbury ad on Aug. 25, 2022, painted on the side of the building now being renovated by the WAFER Food Pantry, (PHOTO: Rick Solem)

WAFER executive director, Erin Waldhart, likes the paintings, but repairs are needed on that part of the building.

“The windows were taken out, blocked up with cinder block,” she said, “and once (the paintings) were uncovered, what was found out is that those sections have lost their integrity. They are not a viable option long-term.”

The design plan calls for the old grocery store to be restored to its original appearance from 1906, before the signs were painted.

The advertisements on the storefront now were painted by Frank Kaufmann, who served for many years on the La Crosse city council and appear to date back to the 1940s or 50s. The store was known by various names over the years — including Birnbaum’s, Skogen’s IGA, Piggly Wiggly, and Gordy’s — before it closed in 2020.

Meanwhile, the building is on schedule to be occupied early next year.  Waldhart hopes to have the exterior work done before winter.

“We’re really pleased that we’re able to put an addition on to the building,” Waldhart says. “It gets us to about double of our current size, which is what we really needed to be able to function programatically and operationally.”

Waldhart says WAFER needs a new location because the current building along the causeway is in the lowest and most easily flooded area of La Crosse.

The Birbaum’s Pawn Shop ad on Aug. 25, 2022, painted on the side of the building now being renovated by the WAFER Food Pantry, (PHOTO: Rick Solem)

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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