Wilfred R. Yetzer founded Yetzer’s Home Furnishings and Flooring along with Yetzer’s Funeral Home in February of 1941. Prior to this, Will had worked for another furniture store and funeral home also in Waconia, MN.
Will started the flooring side of the business by striking his first big deal to do the flooring of a new home a farmer in Cologne, MN built. He borrowed a friend’s milk truck to pick up product in the Twin Cities to be delivered out to customers.
At the funeral home, Will did a funeral for the wife of the owner of our furniture building at the time, they were also in the furniture business. She asked if he had any interest, and they struck a deal. Will moved the funeral home into the building next door to the west of the furniture store, which is now Pangea Café. At this time too, Will also had the ambulance service in the city. The furniture store panel truck would typically be used for the service with two employees in the back of the truck holding a cot in place with the injured person in need on it.
Will always planned funeral services on Sunday’s as that was the best day for a higher than average turn out of attendees. And he always expected everything ‘picture-perfect’ including having the hearse washed and spotless for the service. Regardless of the weather, all the employees washed up the cars Sunday morning before every service. This was just one of the many, many high-level details taken into account in each of the businesses.
Will was one of the first people in the state of Minnesota that was a certified flooring installer. He took a train out to Carney, NJ to become certified. Flooring has always been a big part of the business as that was the first product we sold. Furniture came later, but we also sold appliances and small electronics for a few years in the late 40’s after World War II. OZ4 tubes were common to burn out, so electronics did not seem like a reliable product to sell, at the time.
Will had various family members working in the business during his years of ownership. The business was kept open and running by his mother while all of her sons were off fighting in World War II. Will always told the story of what a great job she did with only a 4th grade education. The other story he always told of his mother was that while her boys were off in the war, she always had to go to the Twin Cities to buy merchandise. This was quite difficult during the war because everything was being rationed, but she would always find someone to sell to her. With merchandise in tight supply, one Christmas all the store had was one wooden rocker left on Christmas Eve and she sold that to a local man for his wife’s Christmas gift. A pretty amazing time to be running a retail business.
The furniture store and funeral home where run as one business until the late 70’s. Will always ran the funeral home and at first had his brother John run the furniture and flooring store. His other brother Stan took over the store manager position after John left to start his own furniture company. Stan was working as an installer for the store before his promotion to store manager. Stan was specifically trained as an installer by attending Alexander Smith Carpet School in Amsterdam, NY. They used to park the funeral home hearse in the basement garage of the furniture store when it was not in use. The company’s first hearse was an old Packard. The car was so well built when they had an accident with it and hit the garage wall, it did more damage to the wall than the hearse. Will then built a new funeral home, which is still at that location in Waconia. Will sold the funeral home business to a long time employee and it is still in their family.
The furniture and flooring store under Will’s ownership and Stan’s management, became the ‘go-to’ spot for all the local area home owners. They built a very good reputation for honest prices and great service. Will always demanded that his employees followed that for customers and reciprocated it for the employees. He took great care of them. Will started a profit sharing plan for his employees and also provided them great health insurance, almost unheard of in that time and for a small business. We still provide these and many more benefits to our employees today. Will always said that the employees were the ones making the sales and doing the work, they needed to be taken care of.
Stan’s son Steve took over the business as store manager in 1983 until he purchased the store in 1988. When Steve took over the business, the store had just gone through the tough economy and business climate of the 80’s. We were down to 3 full time employees and a part time delivery person. With the knowledge of growing up in the business and with Will’s and his father Stan’s mentoring, the business has come back to its glory. Will and Stan made that possible with always having a spotless reputation and making sure customers enjoyed their Yetzer shopping experience.
The business grown to over a dozen full time employees, many of which are still here today. In 2000, we moved our warehouse to the Olive St. building, going from 500 sq ft to 5000 sq ft. We then moved the flooring part of the business out of the furniture store and into a newly remodeled building that was a former gas station. Tripling the display space allowed us to add better displays for flooring and window treatments. We have since added onto that building again in 2012.
With sad feelings no one in the Yetzer family wanted to come into the business so in December 2015 Yetzer’s as a whole was purchased by Thomas Wiest. Tom is keeping the Yetzer name, principles and heritage of what Yetzer’s has always stood for since Will started the business 75 plus years ago. Will became a pillar of Waconia and the surrounding area. Whenever something needed to be done, Will was always ready to lend a hand. Will was even selected to be the first Chairman of the Board for Ridgeview Medical Center and chaired building their original building that has since been added onto many times. Will continued his community spirit throughout his life and has left many marks in this community and the area. Sadly, Will passed away in July of 2016 at the young age of 99.
Read more about Yetzer’s celebrating its 75th Anniversary here:
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