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Heart & Homestead celebrates 25 years

The Manitowoc business offers souvenirs, gifts and decor elements

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September 5, 2023

MANITOWOC – It is said that the secret to success is acquired over time, and for Heart & Homestead, a gift shop located in Manitowoc’s historic downtown district, their entrepreneurial triumphs now have them proudly saying cheers to 25 years. 

Located at 909 S. 8th St., the shop, owned by Cathy Karl and managed by Angela Denis, opened in August 1998. 

Nestled within a historic building built in 1867, it is filled with souvenirs, gifts and decor elements – and fittingly, “packed with a lot of heart,” Karl said. 

“We have gifts for every stage of life, from newborn to memorial, along with fun decor for the casual shopper cleverly displayed by theme,” she said. “Most first-time shoppers comment they don’t know where to look first and that we have so many different and unique items.”

The multi-level store also features an array of kitchen and gourmet chef-inspired goods, children’s items, garden trinkets, candles, gifts for professionals, Americana-style and military.

In true Wisconsin fashion, the storefront window is lined with cheeseheads, plus rows of Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin Badgers, Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks swag.

The upper floor boasts more than 250 Old World Christmas ornaments in the store’s year-round Christmas area. 

Patrons can also head to the finished lower level for decorated nooks filled with Northwoods, camping and beach-centric items.

“Customers often mention how nicely everything is displayed,” Karl said. 

Recently, Heart & Homestead, Karl said, has transitioned to the next generation of shoppers. 

“We’ve been here for 25 years,” she said. “We chuckle when many (customers said) they remember coming into our store with their moms when we first opened.” 

Karl said the staff works hard to make shopping an exciting and enjoyable experience. 

“We most often hear our staff is so nice, and the shopping environment is relaxing,” she said. “We have fun music playing, inside and outside, so it can be heard on the street.” 

Finding success 
Though the item lineups are continually changing, Karl said she has remained dedicated to her store and often reminisces on its happen-by-chance beginning.

“My husband and I were stopped at the stop light one evening and we noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign on our current building,” she said. “We discussed, made a call and several months later, opened our doors.” 

Even before opening the store, Karl was no stranger to the retail industry or business. 

Though she spent 21 years working on ice machines at Manitowoc Ice, she was a vendor at craft shows and ran a part-time gift shop in her grandparent’s former home in Kewaunee. 

Karl said opening her business in Manitowoc – in such a thriving downtown location – was an easy decision for her.

“I always liked the feel of our downtown and the fact it has historic designation, as does our building,” she said.

Karl said the store became an instant haven for shoppers. 

Customers will find an array of souvenirs, gifts and decor elements at Heart & Homestead. Jennifer Much Photo

“I think when you have a plan, you’re determined to make it work,” she said. “The whole team kept up with trends and ideas, and that helped the business to be successful.” 

Karl said the key to the businesses’ success has also included being attentive to the small details. 

“We try to make it fun for shoppers and add that little extra customer service to help make their day go better,” she said. “We also have a Customer Loyalty Program that gives our frequent shoppers free money, too.”

Karl said the business has seen growth over the years, specifically dealing with technology.

“I think the biggest change is the way we promote our business,” she said. “I wasn’t on any social media until 2010. Now, it’s easy to think of an idea and get thousands of views in a few hours.” 

The products – the focus of the business – and its operational tools have also changed, Karl said.

“Of course, our product lines have become more varied, the inventory control system has gone from paper to computer and payment processing has expanded to multiple sources,” she said. “Social media is now a requirement for any business, competition is worldwide rather than just local walk-ins and overall, some things have gotten more complicated, while other things have gotten easier.” 

Karl said the store’s T-shirts, sweatshirts and other local souvenirs offerings are “very popular.” 

“We change out our main area for each season with the new merchandise we carefully curate,” she said.

Karl said the holidays always bring in an extra abundance of shoppers, but the store carries year-round selections of favorite items, such as house and garden flags and Willow Tree Angels.

“We feel with all the promotion of the area, we want to offer a place for visitors to stop in and browse when they’re downtown exploring, and we invite everyone to stop in and say ‘hi,’” she said.

Community connection
Karl said the success of Heart & Homestead has also led to an unmatched connection to the community. 

“My staff and I help to organize or assist with events – like sidewalk sales, ladies’ nights and many seasonal themes and promotional advertising – that many of the downtown businesses participate in,” she said. “We support numerous organizations with memberships and donations for their fundraisers and try to be supportive of new ideas and the changing landscape of the downtown.”

Heart & Homestead also carries a variety of colorful windsocks. Jennifer Much Photo

The store is open seven days a week and only closes for five holidays: Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

“My daughter has been instrumental in keeping things on track since she came on board 20 years ago,” Karl said. “My hope is she’ll be receptive to taking over and making her own changes in the coming years. I think with a great staff, that will be accomplished successfully as we continue to find new lines from the many that are available.” 

For more information, follow Heart & Homestead on Facebook or visit

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