A self-professed “artsy person,” Jennifer Hoffman’s introduction to ’til The Cows Come Home was in repurposing old barn wood into picture frames, signs and the like to sell in the store. Little did she know at the time that in 2016, she would purchase the store at 154 S. Main St., Shawano.
Five years later, Hoffman’s passion for creativity is as strong as ever, whether that’s jewelry-making, stamping or sublimation printers. She also has several years under her belt as the owner of the store that draws a strong clientele interested in unique repurposed and handcrafted decor as well as a newer foray into toys.
That’s the latest innovation for the store that began in what looked like a little barn on the original owner’s property. The owner’s children wanted animals in it, and the story goes that she told them, “Not ’til the cows come home,” and that stuck for the storefront’s name.
She later moved the business from her home in the Crivitz area to a storefront in Lakewood before landing in Shawano.
Pending retirement led the original owner to plan to close the store, which Hoffman saw as an “awesome opportunity,” she said. “I asked her if she would be interested in selling, she said ‘sure,’ and the rest is history.”
The past five years have been a whirlwind for Hoffman but have been a labor of love. As someone who used to do the craft show circuit, she knows hard work, as she did that alongside her work at a local financial institution. When she was notified her position was being eliminated, she wondered if she could do something else and asked for a sign. That’s when she saw that ’til the Cows Come Home was closing and took that as the sign.
Since assuming ownership of the store, Hoffman said it has evolved quite a bit. It was set up as part consignment and part gift store with about 40 vendors initially, focusing on items handmade and made primarily in Wisconsin but also by artists throughout the United States.
Today, the number of vendors is about the same — sometimes inching toward 50 artists — but artists’ work isn’t separated into areas based on their work. Instead, Hoffman shifted the displays to put like things together to enhance the shopping experience.
For example, all types of dish towels are housed in a single area — even though they are all different and made by different artists — so the customer can quickly see what’s available in a specific category. Some of these are supplied by artists within driving distance. Hoffman secures others at purchasing fairs in Madison and Illinois and two Amish companies out of Ohio. Collectively, the artists’ work focuses on home and garden decor, which Hoffman recognized over time might be a bit limiting.
“It’s great when people are buying a new home or are completely redecorating, or buying a gift,” Hoffman said, “but if you’re not redecorating and see something cute, you’re challenged to figure out where to put it.”
While the storefront has always been a gift shop, Hoffman sensed an opportunity. When the storefront next to the store became available last year, a light bulb went off and she decided to take over the space and add something the Shawano area lacked: a toy store. Renovating involved knocking a doorway between the two areas and adding a toy section that followed the same style of the rest of the store but focusing on U.S.-made toys — none of which require batteries.
“People often comment on the quality, unique toys we have to offer,” she said.
We’ve done a lot in downtown Shawano and people can easily spend an entire day here.
— Jennifer Hoffman, owner,
’til The Cows Come Home,
With the toy-store addition, ’til the Cows Come Home grew to about 1,800 square feet of retail space. In January, a quieter time for the store, Hoffman closed for three weeks to remodel what used to be the office, a stage and dressing rooms to make one big, open area because they were now using the office in the newly acquired space.
Now, with the addition, if a customer is seeking some of the most fragrant homemade candles, wood signage, wooden cars or shaped puzzles, they’re covered when they enter ’til the Cows Come Home.
These days, Hoffman estimates the business is about 50 percent in home and garden decor and 50 percent toys, and she’s ecstatic to say the business’ ingenuity alongside work with Shawano’s business improvement district (BID) has helped them to sustain themselves during COVID’s high points.
As president of the BID, Hoffman was on board with a lot of virtual promotion for the virtual-focused version of Shawanofest in 2020, posting items for sale on Facebook and allowing for convenient pickup.
“People really embraced that and supported us,” she said.
January and February are typically a bit slower for the store, but come March, people are ready to get out of the house and look for bright, happy items for spring, launching a busy season that extends until the end of the year.
If it’s not the Christmas holidays prompting grandparents to stock up on toys, it’s birthday gift-giving and parties or home decorating prompting sales at the register.
While the Shawano community has been an outstanding supporter of the store, Hoffman is proud to draw clientele from Appleton, Green Bay, Wausau and even the Milwaukee suburbs — anything within a day’s drive because people find plenty to do in Shawano in addition to visiting the store.
“We’ve done a lot in downtown Shawano and people can easily spend an entire day here,” Hoffman said.
With summer winding down, she’s readying for the holiday season, excited to see how that plays out with a toy section as well.
“We are all about promoting using your imagination and interacting as a family during play,” she said. “I love that there are things like yo-yos and dominoes and other things I played with as a kid.”