DEB ROBERTS DISPLAYS an “Open” sign outside The Collection on Mill Street. submitted photo
by Joe Schulz
Deb Roberts always wanted to open her own business, but between being a nurse and raising a family she never had enough time.
That was until she stepped away from nursing and moved to Green Lake four years ago.
In May, Roberts finally turned that dream into a reality with the help of her daughter and business partner Alex Kohlenberg. The duo opened The Collection, a shop carrying gifts, accent furniture and “elements of high style.”
The retailer is open all week, with the exception of Tuesdays. Its regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Sundays, when it’s open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“I always thought that whenever I retired from nursing, this would be something I’d want to do,” Roberts said. “But I knew I didn’t want to do it by myself, especially with the way things are now with social media.”
Kohlenberg, who also is a former nurse, studied marketing in college and has been behind the store’s social media presence. Roberts, meanwhile, has been working more inside the store.
The duo always has had an interest in home decor and design, and began looking for a retail space in Green Lake in December 2019, eventually purchasing the old Sassafras Coffee building at 524 Mill St.
After purchasing the space, they began working to convert it from a cafe into a retail space.
The building was gutted, the original wooden floor was uncovered and polished and the original chimney was uncovered. The interior was repainted and barn beams have been installed to give it a rustic feel.
When renovating the building, Roberts learned about its past, finding the remnants of an old stairwell and a side porch.
“It’s an old, historic building and it was really cool to learn some of its history,” Roberts said.
After the renovation was complete, the duo put its previous design interest to the test as it filled the building with products.
Many of The Collection’s goods are from U.S. producers, coming from areas such as Door County and Minneapolis.
Joe Schulz photo
“Most of our vendors are ‘Made in the USA’ vendors, or small-batch makers, but not necessarily all the products,” Kohlenberg said. “We don’t guarantee that they’re USA made, but we try to support some women-owned businesses. We try to order everything in a smaller batch so the product is fresh all the time.”
Since the shop opened Friday, May 29, Roberts noted business has been steady, especially on the weekends.
Opening weekend, she added walk-in traffic was steady, as folks wandered from the farmers market into Mill Street businesses.
“We’ve had a lot of walk-in traffic, from people who didn’t necessarily know that we’re here,” Roberts said. “Everyone’s excited to see things opening up; we’ve had a lot of people walk by and say, ‘Oh, we’re so glad you’re here. We’ll be back with our purses.’”
Now that The Collection is open, Roberts noted it’s been rewarding to build something from the ground up, despite the risks associated with building a new business.
“It’s scary because the risk is there, but you always think ‘someday,’” Roberts said. “We actually made that ‘someday’ come true, so it makes you feel good, knowing that you stuck to your guns.”
One part that’s added to the sense of reward is being able to build the business with family.
“There’s no reading between the lines with each other,” Kohlenberg said. “It’s nice to be that up front and to be able to support each other.”
Overall, the duo is excited to join the area’s business community and hopes to add value to downtown Green Lake.
“We really want to bring some life into Green Lake and we’re friends with some of the businesses there that are already here,” Kohlenberg said. “The businesses really add value to each other, so it’s great to know that we’re going to benefit each other.”