Former downtown church to be demolished | Front Page

A former Lutheran church building in downtown Eau Claire, which now serves as a gift shop and electronics store, is planned to be demolished this fall. The site is planned to become a parking lot for a nearby auto body shop.

Belfry House of Gifts and Indianhead Electronic Supply, 321 N. Farwell St., will leave the building in October, said tenant Judy Erickson, owner and operator of both businesses.

The Belfry sells international goods and gifts, including pots, carvings, shelves, clocks and textiles. Indianhead sells circuit supplies, wiring and other electronics.

The Belfry building’s owner, Dave Savage, also co-owns and manages Superior Auto Body, 301 N. Farwell St., which sits next door.

After the expected demolition, the auto shop plans to use the property for parking.

The Belfry building was “falling apart” and would have needed major repairs, Savage said.

The church and auto shop parcel was considered blighted when the Eau Claire City Council voted in 2014 to add the property to the city’s eighth tax increment financing district, according to city TIF records.

“We absolutely need the room,” Savage said. “Right now we’re renting more than two (parking) lots because we’re extremely busy.”

Savage and his wife bought the Superior Auto Body building on Farwell Street in 2006, he said. The company has been in business since 1971.

Concordia Lutheran Church, a congregation member of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod based in Minnesota, constructed the building between 1928 and 1930, according to city tax records and the church’s website.

In 1970, the growing church bought land to expand on the city’s south side. The church has been at 3715 London Rd. ever since.

Meanwhile, Indianhead Electronic Supply opened in 1954, Erickson said. The business has always operated in downtown Eau Claire: first on Wisconsin Street, then at a different Farwell Street address.

But in the early 1970s, after the church moved out of its original Farwell Street building, the Belfry and Indianhead businesses moved in, Erickson said.

The Belfry gift shop sits at the top of a flight of stairs. The building’s downstairs level houses the electronics shop.

“I’ve worked here since 1971, both places, up and down the stairs,” Erickson said.

Cecil Cheever of Eau Claire owned the building and ran the Belfry and Indianhead businesses until his death in 2013, according to an obituary in the (Dalton, Ga.) Daily Citizen-News.

After Cheever’s death, Erickson took over as owner and manager.

The business has attracted many return customers, some of whom sent Erickson flowers and cards after a coronary bypass surgery three months ago, she said: “(They’re) the nicest people in the world.”

Savage bought the Belfry building in 2014, with the intention of eventually razing the building to expand the auto shop’s parking, he said.

Erickson hopes to move Indianhead to a new location, she said: “That’ll be the first priority. If we get a building big enough maybe we can incorporate some of the (Belfry business).”

Retiree John Wiltrout of Chippewa Falls has volunteered at Indianhead for about 1½ years, managing the electronic business part-time.

“We kind of knew it was coming,” Wiltrout said. “We’re looking for a place we can move the Indianhead. We’ve gotten a couple little leads. The situation is, we’ve got to find someplace with low rent.”

The Belfry House of Gifts and Indianhead Electronic Supply are open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Both will likely remain open until early October, Wiltrout said.

Erickson will attempt to sell much of the Belfry’s product before moving, she said Wednesday, giving away a free Mexican-made pot to each customer.

“I’m trying to give people on a good price on stuff,” Erickson said, laughing. “I’m not from Wall Street. Whatever is in here has to get moved.”

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