Downtown Ripon has measured the spectrum of vibrancy for decades—from revitalization efforts to the Watson Street Fire. Through that time, Fox River Glove Outlet endured on their Fond du Lac Street location. “We are the oldest continuous family-owned business left in Ripon,” says owner Mike Reinsch. “I don’t know of anybody else that has been here as long as third generation.
“My grandfather bought the business in 1936. It was by the Fox River in Berlin for one year, and then he moved it over to Ripon in 1937. … We rented the building upstairs for $65 a month. Downstairs was the newspaper; the Ripon Commonwealth was here. When I was in high school, there’d be guys with vinyl type machines grinding out stories. They’d be sitting right in the window. The owner was the publisher of the paper, and in the late 60s, he wanted to retire. So he came to us, my dad and I, and he said, ‘If you want to keep renting for $65 a month up there, you better think about buying the building.’ Which we did.”
One item didn’t change much throughout their manufacturing days—black military leather gloves. When things were really booming, “We probably would do 3,000 dozen a year for just one customer in New York,” says Mike. They also made athletic letter jackets for Ripon high school as well as high schools and colleges all over the state of Wisconsin and in upper Michigan until 1971. In 2003, Fox River Glove Outlet got out of manufacturing altogether, and here they are now.
Mike and his wife, Mary, fondly remember the trends that have come and gone. “My uncle was a salesman and president of HIS out in New York,” says Mike. “He would get us all their irregulars. Every week, five or six boxes would come in with leisure suits, and out the door they went for $25 a suit. We did that for a couple years until that fad went away. There’s probably one or two of what remains at our church—the old timers are still probably wearing one of those suits.”
Mary and Mike fully embrace the sales side of their business, ensuring customers are getting the best stuff for the best price. You’ll find work gloves, summer gloves, wallets, purses, and water shoes. “Some of our big brands are Minnetonka moccasins, Wigwam socks, and Mukluk footwear,” says Mary.
As we were talking, they almost didn’t mention one of their hottest items. “You didn’t mention your jackets,” says Mary.
“Oh yeah, yeah,” says Mike. “How could I forget the jackets. I do a big business in camouflage hunting jackets, blaze orange hunting jackets, ladies sweater jackets, different styles. I have literally thousands of jackets upstairs that I wholesale out the door, and we bring a lot of them down here, but what you see down here is barely the tip of the iceberg.”
Fox River Glove Outlet is a boon in the world of big-box retail. They credit their experienced and friendly sales staff and family for their customers, many coming back year after year to either buy a new pair of moccasins or do some early Christmas shopping. So bring your partner, bring your kids, bring your dog (yes, they’re pet friendly) and see what fantastic items they have for sale this season.
Kyle Jacobson is a freelance writer and senior copy editor for Green Lake Magazine.