Many young children dream of getting their own pet, just as many gardeners dream of the perfect garden. It was because of a dream from a young age that many Wauwatosa residents have come to make Wisconsin Garden and Pet Supply their preferred local shop for all things pets and plants.
Charles Gerlach always wanted to own a pet store, explained his son and current owner Dan Gerlach. With the assistance of his father, also named Charles, Charles Gerlach's dream came true in 1954 when he opened Wisconsin Garden and Pet at its original location on Lefeber and North avenues. However, at the time, the business was just a pet store.
After a few summers, Charles began to wonder where all of his customers were during the summer. That’s when he realized that they were in their gardens.
“He realized that he had to start selling gardening stuff, and the second half was born,” said Dan Gerlach.
The plant business began with just a few sawhorses set up to display plants, but quickly took off. In 1980, the company purchased the building previously occupied by Bungalow Hobby and Cycle which became their garden center.
For the first few years, the business was run at their Lefeber location. In 1958, the current pet shop building was constructed at 8520 W. North Ave. At the time, Wauwatosa was still a growing community with kids in the area who were interested in owning pets, Gerlach explained. So the business stayed in Wauwatosa.
The family is now owned by Gerlach and his brother Bob. Siblings Sue and Tom have since retired from the family business.
From the start, Wisconsin Garden and Pet has offered small animals and birds, but not cats or dogs.
“We always felt that it’s better to adopt on the dog and cat side," or go to a breeder, said Gerlach.
Pet supplies have always been a big part of the business. The company focuses on offering higher-end, often locally-based pet foods, including Fromm, which is based in Mequon.
Many of Wisconsin Garden and Pet’s plants are from local sources as well, including W. & E. Radtke in Germantown and a greenhouse in Oostburg.
“People like the idea that they are keeping their money in southeast Wisconsin,” explains Gerlach.
With experienced staff on hand, including a plant shop manager who is a horticulturist, Gerlach said plants from Wisconsin Garden and Pet thrive. He said even customers who move out of the area find themselves coming back to buy their plants because of the care they are given.
While pets, pet supplies, house plants, lawn tools, some decor and other items are in stock all year, Wisconsin Garden and Pet offers a variety of seasonal items.
Come spring, flowers fill the aisles, as do vegetable plants. In summer, customers enjoy browsing fresh produce, including corn. Fall brings in a bounty of pumpkins and mums, before the boughs, poinsettias, decorated wreaths and firewood adorn the space in winter.
The company prides itself on providing customers very personal service. Gerlach said they understand that even if a guest doesn’t end up purchasing anything, “you’ll remember us for the next time you need a product.”
He said the store also prides itself on providing expert advice.
"That’s really one of the things that differentiates us from big box stores; you can talk to a person and say, ‘Which of these do I buy? How do I solve my problem?’”
With such a long history, many people come in and share memories of their visits to the shop as children.
Gerlach said an added benefit is "that whole trying to find local businesses that has really become a thing in the last five to 10 years. People realize that it’s kind of nice to come to a neighborhood store.”
Wisconsin Garden and Pet Supply
ADDRESS: 8520 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa
HOURS: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Spring will bring expanded hours. See website for more details.