By B.C. Kowalski
Craig Porter started his business, The Lamplighter, at a very different time in Wausau’s history.
The mall had just opened. Porter’s store was one of six original stores in the Washington Square building kitty-corner from the mall, which had also just opened. Porter remembers attending the mall’s opening celebration.
“It was quite the gala event,” Porter said from his shop on Third Street. “Black tie, searchlights in the sky.”
Now 39 years later, Porter is planning to close his store. He’d originally planned to close at the end of July, but a shipment of products is still on its way. So he’ll stay in business into at least the first couple of weeks of August to sell that coming inventory.
In fact, inventory and supply issues have become a problem of late, Porter explains, in way he hasn’t seen in the nearly four decades he’s been in business. That’s one contributing factor to Porter, who is 68, deciding to close up shop.
“For many years, people needed something, and I would get it in a week or a few days,” Porter says. “Now my vendors aren’t holding as much inventory; it could take months.
Prices have skyrocketed too, far more than Porter cares to pass on to his customers. “I believe in having fair prices,” Porter says. “Fair and steady prices.”
One example Porter mentions: Polish pottery has become completely untenable. Inflation in Poland has been much higher than the U.S.’s, driving up prices to the point where it doesn’t make sense to carry it.
Porter’s parents started a similar store in Minocqua, Porter told City Pages. He moved to Wausau in 1983 to start what was a second location for his family. His parents sold their store in Minocqua in 1986, leaving The Lamplighter as its own business.
The Lamplighter operated out of the Washington Square building for 20 years before moving across the street. It was too big at the time but Porter expected to grow into the space. Then the Great Recession started in 2007 and Porter moved back into a smaller space in Washington Square again. That helped the store weather the storm.
When Jalapenos’s owners wanted to expand to the ground floor, Lamplighter moved to its current Third Street location.
Supply chain issues aside, Porter says he would likely be looking at moving to a smaller location again — and to do that, he felt he would need to run the shop at least three more years to make the move worth it. Instead, though it was a hard decision, Porter decided it was time to retire.
The volume of the outpouring of support and well wishes surprised even Porter. “People have been so warm to me,” Porter told City Pages.
Mark Craig, Property Manager of Third Street Lifestyle (new name for the Washington Square building) worked with Porter and The Lamplighter for years. “The Lamplighter has been providing unique gifts from around the world in downtown Wausau for over 38 years,” Craig told City Pages. “They will be greatly missed. Craig certainly has earned his retirement!”
A customer buying from him that afternoon told him the same. “How many of us will miss you terribly?” the woman asked rhetorically. “It was a good decision for you. You’ve always got to think about the person who wants to enjoy life. But how many of are going to cry after you leave.”
“It was a hard decision to make,” Porter says.