LA VALLE — Natalie “Bubba” Scarborough knows her customers by name and what it’s like to go through a disaster.
As she served bottles of Miller Genuine Draft and plastic, paper-lined baskets crammed with hard-shell tacos last week, the only evidence of the flood of 2008 was a few photos mixed in with the beer signs, several feet from a line of seven electronic dart boards.
But the hardship of eight years ago that caused more than $30,000 damage and closed the business for more than a week remains fresh. So when a fire claimed the village’s lone grocery store on March 15, empathy toward the store’s owners came with no hesitation.
“The flood was bad enough,” Scarborough said. “I can’t even imagine a fire.”
Little imagination is needed.
The reality is at the corner of East Main and South East streets in a pile of bricks and twisted, charred metal. A few shopping carts and pieces of shelving protruded from the rubble last week of what had been Bare Necessities Marketplace.
The store, housed partly in a building that dated to the 1870s and owned since 2003 by Jim and Tracey Noga, sold more than groceries. It was a meat market and a place to bring your deer for processing. There was an ice cream shop, a bakery that served fresh pastries each morning and a deli with daily soup and sandwich specials. Just 90 minutes before the fire, the store posted on its Facebook page a recipe for buffalo chicken tortilla roll-ups.
The shop was also a pit stop for anglers with a selection of hooks, bobbers, muskie and bass baits, minnows and advice for use on Lake Redstone to the northeast and Dutch Hollow Lake to the northwest.
“He had a mix of goods,” said Jeff Barnes, a sales representative for Robinson Wholesale of Genoa City that sold Jim Noga fishing tackle and who had stopped by the business after hearing about the blaze. “It’s sad. He was busy in the summer.”
And now it’s all gone, except for the Facebook page that earlier this month also had recipes for cheesy hamburger casserole, three-cheese rigatoni Italian pie and Very Berry Cheesecake Salad.
The fire was reported just after 1 p.m. after someone noticed smoke coming from the building’s roof vents. The cause remains under investigation but, so far, the blaze does not appear to be suspicious, according to the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office. The fire also destroyed an apartment above the store and most of the possessions of its renter, Matthew Lombard, who was at work at the time but also in the process of moving.
The Nogas are trying to decide if they should rebuild but declined to speak in-depth to the State Journal about the decision.
Loss is hard and nosy reporters do little to ease the pain.
They did post a comment to their Facebook page and in the process took customer service to a new level. They apologized for the smell and the inconvenience of all the fire trucks that clogged the main route through town.
“A big ‘thank you’ to the fire departments and the village residents for dealing with the smoke and traffic yesterday,” the Nogas posted a day after the fire. “A little piece of history was taken from us yesterday.”
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A benefit fund for the Nogas has been established at the State Bank of Cazenovia in La Valle. Daniel Dee, bank president, located just a few blocks from the store, said the fund is one way the community can support a possible return of the store.
“It’s a small town and people just want to help. We’ve done it in the past,” Dee said. “When you lose a local grocery store, it’s a big deal.”
Unfortunately, this village of about 380 people has been forced to endure its share of setbacks.
The flood of 2008 from the rain-swelled Baraboo River did more than damage Bubba’s bar. The water inundated the village’s downtown and wreaked havoc on several businesses, village hall, the library and homes. Damage was estimated at more than $1 million.
The flood forced the village to spend $200,000 to build a new facility to house village hall and the library, which lost 1,000 books. The remaining 6,000 books were in storage for nearly two years until the larger library was completed.
When photographer Steve Apps and I rolled into the village eight years ago shortly after the flood waters receded, we found Ann Zobel and Kelly Kaun scraping mud from the floor of Village Hair Design. The beauty shop had nearly two feet of water covering its floor and was closed for nearly six weeks for remodeling. Only the upper portions of the wooden work stations were saved.
“Everything else is new,” Zobel told me when I returned last week to find her and Kaun, who is now a Fry, on lunch break. “The first week we just threw all the junk into dump trucks. Sometimes, it seems like only yesterday.”
There is little retail in La Valle (a fire destroyed the hardware store several years ago) but there are multiple restaurants that serve not only the locals but those who frequent the nearby lakes, come for a chunk of Sid Cook’s award-winning creations at nearby Carr Valley Cheese or to ride their bikes.
The Wisconsin 400 State Trail runs through the village and opened in 1993 on an abandoned Chicago and North Western Railroad bed. The trail includes a parking lot and bathrooms on land that were formerly home to a train depot. The 22-mile trail from Elroy to Reedsburg is named after a passenger train that traveled the 400 miles between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul in 400 minutes.
Flood water and the grocery and hardware store fires haven’t been the only hits to the village. A downtown convenience store and gas station across the street from Bare Necessities has been closed for over a year. The Laundromat at the other end of the village’s downtown hasn’t reopened after a small dryer fire several months ago, said Village President Pete Krueger.
The antiques store in the old feed mill has closed but has been transformed into a banquet hall by the owners of the adjacent La Valle Family Restaurant. The Mill is scheduled to make its debut with an Easter morning buffet.
Krueger also worries about the village losing its elementary school, which is a constant target by the Reedsburg School District at budget time. He and the Village Board are also trying to figure out a way to improve the village’s sanitation system. The village currently uses a lagoon system, but it may need to build a wastewater treatment plant to meet state and federal environmental regulations. The project could cost more than $6 million.
“Any one of those issues would be bad enough but when you have all of them, it’s tough,” Krueger said, as we talked in the showroom of Archie Monuments, the business he manages just outside of the village. “It’s tragic. We’re hoping (the grocery) comes back.”
Krueger, who grew up in Reedsburg, has lived in La Valle for 10 years. He’s already missing the Nogas’ rotisserie chickens but can’t imagine the stress the fire has created for the couple. There is a convenience store just north of the village but the nearest grocery store is in Reedsburg, eight miles to the southeast on Highway 33.
“Jim said they really want to rebuild, and we certainly hope they do,” Krueger said. “They really feel like they want to continue serving the people, but he feels bad that he’d be letting the village down if they’re not there.”