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Revitalizing a Manitowoc legacy

The now-renovated Schuette Brothers Department Store offers commercial space, housing for community

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April 3, 2024

MANITOWOC — For Anton and Michelle Doneff, keeping a part of Manitowoc’s history alive was important to them, as they both grew up in or near the area.

That’s why, in 2011, the Doneffs decided to buy the Schuette Building (located on the corner of Jay and 8th streets).

“It ended up being in a sheriff’s auction,” he said. “The bank put it up for sale. On the date of the auction, my wife and I were visiting my parents in Arizona, so my sister went to the courthouse and bought the building for us.”

The next 10 years, Anton said, were ones of “exploration, getting our ducks in a row and making sure the timing was right to make it happen.”

“We were familiar with the building and drove past it for years, and had a vision of something special happening there and having life brought back to the building,” he said.

The Doneffs breathed new life into the historic building with commercial space and apartments, with “a lot of work and investment to do after acquiring the building.”

A bit of history
Anton said the Schuette family first came to Wisconsin in the mid-1800s.

“According to what my architect had dug up, they started a business in Manitowoc in 1849,” he said. “(They were in) a different building downtown, (and)… the existing building was built in 1902.”

The Schuette Building is located on the corners of Jay and 8th streets in downtown Manitowoc. Photo Courtesy of the Schuette Building

Known as the Schuette Brothers Department Store, Anton said the building offered different retail options from clothing to grocery items.

One of the unique aspects of the building at the time, he said, was the Schuette family’s pneumatic tube system.

“This is something the locals will recall,” he said. “There was a main accounting area on the second floor and then a pneumatic tube system that went to each of the departments throughout the building. So, these tubes are running all over the place with a main accounting area. These tubes would have capsules in them which would shoot or carry the receipts and money back and forth. It was, at that time, a modern and sophisticated way of having a main accounting area and controlling the transactions.”

While the system is no longer in place throughout the building, Anton said the tubes have been stored away for safekeeping.

The department store, he said, was the nation’s oldest family-owned department store when it closed in 1994.

Once it closed in the mid-1990s, Anton said the building was never fully occupied until they took over ownership.

Restoring the historic building
Now, when folks in the community stop into the Historic Schuette Building, Anton said they can expect to find commercial space on the first floor, which offers five retail spaces.

Right now, graced, a boutique that sells apparel and handmade products; Quilting in the Valley, a fabric store; and Knight Barry Title, a title company are housed on the ground floor.

The second and third floors of the property have been transformed into 17 apartment units, which have either one, two or four bedrooms.

When renovating the Schuette Building, Anton Doneff said parts of the property were restored and/or remained to keep the historical appeal of the space, such as the grand staircase. Photo Courtesy of the Schuette Building

Restoring the building, Anton said, “took a lot of time and work to get all the pieces in place to make it happen.”

“Part of that was waiting for the economy to improve,” he said. “And then once everything was lined up, all the funding sources and the contractors, then it was go-time because we had deadlines.”

And, though Anton said the building has modern-day elements to it, such as updated furnishings and appliances, the historic charm of the former department store can still be seen throughout.

“There are hardwood floors throughout the building that were the original hardwood floors,” he said. “There’s tin ceilings — which all had to be taken down — (but) some of it was reinstalled and then some of it is new replication, which is amazing. You can tell the new is new, but it looks the same as the old, just in a more pristine condition.”

One of the main attractions of the Schuette Building that was restored, which Anton said “people from the area remember from years ago,” is the grand staircase.

“(It) makes quite a statement,” he said. “It was a state-of-the-art department store.”

Keeping Manitowoc great
Anton said adding 17 additional housing options in the City of Manitowoc helps to reenergize the city and its economy.

“If you create an additional 17 housing units- in the heart of downtown, where people spend their money in the restaurants and shops and at the Civic Center, which is right across the street, (it helps),” he said. “(And) in two key ways — you have people not only spending money there but also living there.”

The second and third floors of the Schuette Building are now used for housing, with 17 apartment units throughout the two floors. Photo Courtesy of the Schuette Building

Keeping the Historic Schuette Building alive, Anton said, “was a labor of love for us.”

“It was something we felt we could do for the community, given our resources, our knowledge and our area of expertise,” he said. “It was a difficult project, (but) in the end, it was quite rewarding. It’s a lasting legacy for the City of Manitowoc, so it’s special for us.”

Anton said revitalizing the Schuette Building also wouldn’t have been possible without the people who backed them.

“People in the community who supported us in different ways and offered encouragement — that helped us through and made it happen,” he said.

To learn more about the Historic Schuette Building, visit

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