J's Feeds to open second location in former Leyden general store

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Ashley McCallum
Monday, October 9, 2017

JANESVILLEWill you sell Sun Drop?

Residents asked Janell McMahon that question so often that she added a convenience section to J's Feeds' second location.

J's Feeds is an animal feed and supply store Janell owns and operates in Orfordville. The company's second location at 6421 W. Highway 14, Janesville, will celebrate its grand opening Oct. 13 to 15.

When word spread that Janell was opening J's Feeds at the former Leyden general store, area farmers were quick to tell her the citrus soda was a delicacy at the store in the 1960s and '70s.

Sun Drop is one of many pieces of store history Janell wants to preserve.

It might have been more cost-effective to demolish the store and build new, Janell said, but that was not her vision.

Leyden is an unincorporated community northwest of Janesville that began as a small Irish settlement, according to a Gazette story. At one time, the community had a railroad depot, a tavern and a general store.

The store was built in 1890, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

“The connection to the past is important. As you can see, we really tried to keep that in the building,” Janell said.

“I think, as well, we're trying to keep that feel of the business—old-time values that you go to the old general store, and they walk in, and we know the customers by name.”

Janell's husband, Jeb McMahon, is a real estate investor in Orfordville. Their first J's Feeds store saw steady growth in its first year, Janell said. When they saw the building on Highway 14, Jeb thought, "I'm just going to ask."

He asked, and they received. The couple spent months restoring the store, preserving the original wood siding, building structure and "Leyden Store" sign that now will hang above the convenience section.

Janell wants to keep the Highway 14 store centered around community needs and interests, she said. That will include an educational component, with seminars for animal care and nutrition.

Janell, Jeb and team leader Ally Steinke understand agriculture and their community because they have been involved in both for years.

The trio went to Parkview High School together and participated in FFA and 4-H until they “aged out of the system,” Janell said.

Jeb and Janell were high school sweethearts, she said. Steinke played Little League with Jeb.

“(We) look at it like more than a business. It's a way of life,” Steinke said. “It's a lifestyle, a commitment to a lot of different things.”

Janell and Steinke have cared for “pretty much any animal" they could between the two of them, including cows, sheep, horses, chickens and pigs, Janell said. They plan to make their dogs—Janell's Great Dane and Steinke's goldendoodle—regular guests at the store.

Once they have filled the management positions, Janell and Steinke will hire more workers, but they are not sure how many. Local FFA kids who are interested in agriculture most likely will provide afternoon help.

As team leader, Steinke hopes to offer exceptional customer service that bigger stores cannot provide—remembering names, bringing bags to people's cars and understanding what is important to shoppers.

Janell said further expansion is not out of the question. She did not expect to open the Highway 14 store, but she seized the opportunity when it presented itself with a positive attitude in mind.

“I think that's one of the things that growing up farming teaches you—a lot of perseverance,” she said. “You gotta have the grit to endure the day in, day out and the time that it takes to do farming.”

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