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Rock County retailers may have online shopping to thank in consumer spending surge


Despite the loss of several major retailers over the last year, Rock County’s retail spending continues to surge in a big way.

Retail spending in the first quarter of 2019 leaped by 13.8 percent over the same period last year, from $652 million in early 2018 to $742 million last quarter, according to state Department of Revenue sales tax receipts.

That’s by far the biggest jump in consumer spending in the nine years The Gazette has tracked retail sales on its Quarterly Economic Dashboard. It outpaces national averages for retail spending in the same period.

That occurred despite the store closures that have erased several hundred thousand square feet of occupied floor space and millions of dollars of inventory in Rock County—and that’s just counting the recent closures of Boston Store, Sears and Toys R Us.

The jump in local spending might seem counterintuitive, given national headlines on the purported retail store apocalypse driven by the trend toward online shopping.

Retail experts and local store managers offer one explanation, and it doesn’t have much do with foot traffic inside stores.

Actually, it’s the opposite. The uptick likely is due, at least in part, to more local stores embracing e-commerce: online ordering of items either for delivery to the home or for pickup at stores.

Pure online shopping—ordering goods for home delivery from distribution giants such as Amazon—still accounts for just 10% of U.S. retail spending, retail analysts say.

Bill Ryan, an economist and community business development specialist with the UW Extension’s Center for Community and Economic Development, said larger-scale retailers such as Target, Walmart and local supermarkets have gotten into online shopping through digital apps, which allow consumers to pick up pre-assembled orders at the stores.

Meanwhile, smaller national retail chains are becoming more nimble at playing Amazon’s game, too, he said.

Janesville-based Blain Supply, which operates a growing chain of Blain’s Farm & Fleet stores, is one local example.

Tim Madole, who manages the Farm & Fleet on Humes Road in Janesville, showed off a bevy of BOPAS—“buy online, pick up at store” customer orders—organized on storage racks in a room near the customer service desk.

There were bags of Keurig one-cup coffee maker pods, a cover for a three-burner gas grill, a selection of rechargeable, battery-powered impact drivers and drills, and a hummingbird feeder, among other online orders.

Customers at some point will walk in, pay for their items and go. Or they could have bulkier orders ready for loading into their cars at a drive-thru pickup lane at the far end of the store.

Madole said the job of balancing inventory for walk-in customers with the increasing trend of online shopping is like running a business that’s part store, part warehouse and distribution center.

“I look at sales numbers every day. Our e-commerce flow is very, very busy. Very busy every day,” he said. “The one thing about that is that you hope they’re not one-off customers. You want them in the store because we’re like anyone else. We want add-on sales.”

Here’s another phenomenon Madole has noticed: Some shoppers order their entire shopping lists on their phones while sitting in their cars in Farm & Fleet’s parking lot.

Those shoppers sometimes walk in the store about five minutes later, expecting to pick up their orders.

Madole explains to them that the store has a two-hour window between online ordering and pickup.

“It takes just a bit more lead time than five minutes,” he said.

UPDATE: Chief says Darien man shot and killed ex-girlfriend two months after breakup


Two months after a couple in Darien broke up, the man shot and killed the woman Monday night before taking his own life, Delavan’s police chief said Thursday.

The investigation shows Casey J. DePriest, 29, shot and killed Jenna M. Brovold, 29, and shot Jenna’s brother, Evan A. Brovold, 26, who survived.

DePriest then took his own life, according to a police news release.

DePriest and Jenna Brovold had lived together where the shooting took place—a house at 452 Buckingham Court in Darien—before their relationship ended, according to the release.

The shooting is thus considered a domestic violence incident, Chief Jim Hansen told The Gazette on Thursday.

Earlier on Monday, Jenna Brovold had told her sister she was afraid to stay at her home that evening because DePriest had made a threatening comment to the effect of, “You will be sorry,” according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by The Gazette on Thursday.

Police found DePriest’s silver Sonata parked in the gravel drive of Darien’s Wildwood Park, which is walking distance from the home on Buckingham Court, according to the affidavit.

DePriest was at the house Monday and confronted Evan Brovold when he showed up, Hansen said. The affidavit says Evan Brovold told police DePriest shot him in the shoulder.

DePriest was the first to call 911, Hansen said. Evan Brovold also called 911.

At least one of the calls was received at the Walworth County Dispatch Center at about 6 p.m. Monday, police have said.

SWAT officers breached the door and found the bodies after “several hours of attempted negotiations and investigative leads,” according to an earlier news release.

Hansen said police never made contact with DePriest. The Walworth County SWAT team entered the home at 9:43 p.m., according to the affidavit.

Police released the scene at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. The autopsies have been completed, but he said the reports are still being finalized.

Hansen said there was damage to the house, but he did not specify what kind of damage.

Two firearms are among the evidence listed as seized with the search warrant—a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun with seven rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber and a Ruger .380 pistol with five rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber.

The Ruger was found in the “male subject’s right front pants pocket,” but it is not explained in the court documents how the guns were used in the incident.

The couple had been dating for about a year and a half before breaking up, Hansen said.

Delavan police have no information that shows Jenna Brovold tried to reach out to them earlier about DePriest. But as the investigation unfolds, Hansen said police can examine phones and computers to learn more about that.

Hansen encouraged any victims of domestic violence to reach out to New Beginnings APFV, the county’s human services department or local law enforcement.

While neighbors and Hansen have said such an incident is rare for the area, it is Darien’s second murder-suicide in the last six months.

Steven W. Kohs, 34, on Dec. 2 shot and killed William Swift, 48, and wounded Kohs’ estranged wife, Rebecca L. Kohs.

Steven Kohs then took his own life.

Evan Brovold, of Delavan, is recovering from his injuries and has been released from the hospital, according to the release.

Police said the investigation will continue for “months.”

“We have determined what has occurred,” the release states. “What will take time is why this took place.”

‘I have safety concerns’

Court documents show another woman had a harassment restraining order against DePriest from 2013 to 2016.

The woman wrote that DePriest “routinely” called her profane and derogatory names. He yelled at her and her family and repeatedly called and texted her, documents show.

After she told him to stop contacting her or she would file a restraining order, he sent her 42 text messages over about eight hours. Several screenshots of text messages were filed with the court.

In the messages, DePriest repeatedly insults and threatens the woman.

“Im gonna spit on your grave when you die haha,” one message read.

In 2013, the woman wrote DePriest’s behavior made her feel “harassed and intimidated.”

Around the same time in other court documents, the woman wrote that DePriest sent her several messages about his addiction to pills and how he “needs help.” He had previously abused prescription and recreational drugs, documents allege.

DePriest also suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder, the woman wrote.

“I have safety concerns regarding Casey’s untreated substance abuse issues and mental health issues,” the woman wrote in 2013.

A judge lifted the restraining order in June 2016 when the woman wrote “I no longer feel threatened anymore …”

She said she felt her lawyer had “persuaded” her into having the injunction term be four years, she wrote.

A search of DePriest’s Wisconsin criminal history shows only a disorderly conduct conviction from 2008. DePriest pleaded guilty to being in a car with another man, driving in front of a Delavan house repeatedly and pretending to shoot at it, according to the criminal complaint.

DePriest told police in 2008 they were just joking.

‘Kind and loving spirit’

Jenna Brovold was born in Janesville and graduated from Carroll University exactly two years before the day she died, according to her obituary. She was a behavioral health specialist at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc and lived in Delavan.

“Jenna Mae had a kind and loving spirit with a beautiful smile, contagious laugh, and compassionate soul,” the obituary states. “She lived her life to the fullest.”

Memorial services will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Delavan. A celebration of life will be held afterward from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Greenie’s Clubhouse at Delbrook Golf Course in Delavan.

Instead of flowers, the obituary asks that memorials be given to Our Redeemer Lutheran School or the Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin.

“When remembering Jenna, celebrate the happy memories and always remember that life is fragile and sometimes too short,” the obituary states. “We will be missing our sweet, beautiful angel every day for the rest of our lives.”

Update: This article was updated at 4:52 p.m. Thursday to include more information from an affidavit obtained Thursday afternoon.

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Blackhawk Community Credit Union changes course on development


Blackhawk Community Credit Union is abandoning plans to build a new, riverfront headquarters and museum development along South Water Street in downtown Janesville.

Instead, the credit union plans to break up the development across two properties—the former Chase Bank on West Milwaukee Street downtown and the Moose Lodge site on the city’s west side.

Credit Union CEO Sherri Stumpf said the credit union intends to buy the former Chase Bank at 100 W. Milwaukee St., which has been vacant since late 2016, and buy the 15-acre Moose Lodge property at 2701 Rockport Road.

The 24,000-square-foot former Chase Bank would house a planned “legacy center” that would act as a museum to honor the history of autoworkers who labored at the former General Motors’ Janesville assembly plant. The Moose Lodge property would house the credit union’s future corporate headquarters and act as a company “campus” that could accommodate the credit union’s growth, Stumpf told The Gazette on Thursday.

“Timing” and “complexity” of the original project site spurred the change in plans, Blackhawk wrote in a news release Thursday.

The change comes after a set of ballyhooed announcements last September by Blackhawk that it planned to build $30 million Reflections Plaza—a corporate headquarters, legacy center and multi-use commercial space—along a two-block stretch of South Water Street properties along the east shore of the Rock River between Hedberg Public Library and West Court Street.

The credit union had been in talks with the city in early April over a proposal by the credit union for the city to buy the South Water Street properties from a private owner and pay for any environmental cleanup needed at the sites—an estimated $7.1 million up-front deal. The cleaned site would have been sold to the credit union for $1.

In the wake of Blackhawk’s Thursday announcement, that deal apparently is now off the table.

Stumpf said city staff was working on an environmental analysis but had not countered the credit union’s proposal or indicated whether the proposed deal might move ahead. She said the credit union had not publicly disclosed it, but she said Blackhawk had made city officials aware it was looking at the former Chase Bank and Moose Lodge properties as “alternate” locations for its legacy center and headquarters ever since it began considering the project.

“We always had an alternate plan. The development plan on the (South Water Street) riverfront has had a certain amount of complexities to it. We needed an alternate plan, but the legacy center was always planned as a downtown development,” Stumpf said.

By “complexities,” Stumpf said she meant an unknown scope of environmental cleanup, plus floodplain concerns that either the city or the property owner would have to work through. The sites earmarked for Blackhawk’s Reflections Plaza included the former Rock County Jail site, the vacant Bee Line property and the adjacent Nowlan & Mouat Law Firm.

Stumpf said it was unknown what scope of regulatory work might be required to do a large-scale commercial development on a low-lying property along the river.

“When you dig that hole, you have no idea what you’d find. The places where you could have experienced delays were numerous. It could have been a lot of work with the DNR, a lot to work out with flooding issues,” Stumpf said.

Meanwhile, the credit union faced a 2021 deadline to vacate its Kennedy Road branch, which it has already agreed to donate to HealthNet.

“Time was of the essence at this point,” Stumpf said.

Blackhawk has agreements to buy both the Chase Bank and Moose Lodge properties, and the Moose Lodge sale could close in June, Stumpf said.

She said it’s undecided whether the Moose Lodge building would become part of the credit union’s corporate headquarters, but the credit union plans to build a new office on the site.

Stumpf said she and the owner of the former Chase Bank, Janesville developer Jim Johnson, have been communicating directly over the sale of the building. Its location is adjacent to the town square and festival street, a linchpin in ARISE, a public-private redevelopment of the downtown riverfront.

The former bank’s two-story structure would house Blackhawk’s planned legacy center, and an addition on the west side of the building could be leased for office space or retail. Stumpf said the parking lot at the property would likely be opened for public use, an oasis of parking she said is “much needed” downtown.

Blackhawk plans to strip the marble facing off the bank and restore its original, 1913 front.

Inside the building, Stumpf said the credit union would remove the drop ceiling to unveil the original, vaulted ceilings.

Work could start on that project this fall, and it could be completed in 2021, which was the original timeline for the Reflections Plaza proposal, Stumpf said.

Stumpf said Blackhawk always had planned to develop a new headquarters in Janesville, and it always intended to build a legacy center downtown. She said the credit union is excited about the prospect of re-using the former Chase Bank and Moose Lodge sites.

“These are two existing structures that have been left open or available, and we’re glad to use them. When you look around Janesville, there are plenty of buildings that you could restore,” Stumpf said.

“If we’re not going to build brand new, we’ve taken two buildings that mean a lot to this community and we’re making good use of them.”

Obituaries and death notices for May 17, 2019

Mary J. Bennett

Nancy Ann Dooley

Eunice V. Ellifson

Raymond P. Hewes

David Richard Kamholz

Bette Mae Shaw