Developer Joe Gallina used to drive through Mount Horeb from Madison on his way to ski at Tyrol Basin. He would have breakfast at Schubert’s Café, where he could look upon the historic Hoff Department Store across the street. At that time, Joe was remodeling older buildings into apartments and saw a business opportunity with the store. Enter University of Wisconsin–Extension Professor (now emeritus) and Dane County Development Specialist Dennis Domack. The professor had conducted studies of economic growth in smaller communities and helped bring in business to those places. He connected Joe to Lyle Johnson, who owned the store building. Lyle was ready to retire and had already closed the store he had operated for 36 years.
Joe purchased the building August 7, 1986, and began construction of a new Hoff Mall (first floor) and Hoff Apartments (second floor), still keeping the Hoff name—a name well known in the community. Rather than a ground-breaking ceremony to start construction, a wall-breaking ceremony took place in September. The wall that was broken was on a side of the building which, at one time, had large windows similar to those in the front. The intent was to renovate the building back to its original design.
The Hoff Mall, at 101 E. Main Street, consisting of six shops on the first floor and an antique center on the lower level, was completed in December. Its grand opening was April 3 through 5, 1987. The schedule of events included the ribbon cutting, a live radio broadcast, a clown and juggler, costumed Sons of Norway members serving Norwegian specialties, folk music, and door prizes. A month earlier, 12 contemporary apartments opened on the second floor.
The predecessor to the Hoff Department Store was the first business in Mount Horeb—a general store opened in 1866 by George Burrows. With the coming of the railroad, the store building was moved in 1881, to what is now the current site of the Hoff Mall, to be closer to the depot. Just about all traffic to and from the train depot had to go by the Burrows store. With more people settling in and around Mount Horeb, the demand for more and different types of goods was increasing. Andrew Hoff, who had purchased the Burrows general store in 1887, first remodeled and enlarged it in 1905.
Between 1900 and 1916, Mount Horeb experienced a growth spurt, with 45 new businesses starting during that time. Andrew Hoff, probably wanting to remain the largest retail store in the village, decided to expand his store again. Construction began in 1916 on a new Hoff Department Store, and it was completed the following year. The new store was built over the old store, a meat market, and a vacant adjacent lot. A series of construction and demolition stages was designed to keep the store open without missing a single day of business.
The Hoff Department Store was the largest and most successful of the commercial enterprises in Mount Horeb. The storefront, the size of a city block, drew its customers from a predominantly rural area. It was the commercial powerhouse of Mount Horeb until close-out began November 17, 1983. It was reported that people were lined up on the outside before the store opened that day. After shopping, some customers had to wait up to one and one-half hours before reaching the checkout.
In 1989, the Hoff Department Store was added to the National Register of Historic Places. According to the Register nomination, the building “exhibits a high degree of historic integrity as a representative example of the Commercial Style,” popular with commercial buildings at the beginning of the 20th century.
The Hoff Department Store was Joe’s first substantial restoration project. It was touch and go at the beginning of the $1,000,000 undertaking. The local bank’s board voted 5 to 4 against giving Joe a $600,000 loan even though the village board had given its approval for the project. But all was not lost. In less than a month, Joe obtained financing from his long-time financial partner, the M&I Bank of Hilldale. Construction proceeded as planned. Not only did the restoration finish on time, it also came in on budget. According to Joe, this job put The Gallina Companies on the map.
The Hoff Mall was the first commercial building in Mount Horeb to be retrofitted with a sprinkler system and an elevator for the second-floor apartments. Because of solid rock underlying the structure, dynamite was used in the digging of the pit for the elevator. According to Joe, “The Hoff Department Store was a very well built building. There was no need for additional structural support, and it was safe as a tornado shelter. Wood beams and wood columns were in good condition.”
Joe was recognized for his work when he received a Dane County Small Business Award in 1987. The Hoff Mall received a state of Wisconsin Community Development Award that same year.
But Joe wasn’t done. In 2007, he made more changes to the Hoff Mall. The six spaces on the first floor were renovated into four improved retail spaces. New awnings were installed on the outside of the building to keep the historical feel. Today, the businesses on the first floor of the Hoff Mall include Elegant Bridal, New York Minute Boutique, Red Carpet Salon, and the recently expanded Hoff Bistro 101.
Inspired by Gary Gorman, an Oregon, Wisconsin, developer who had transformed a former high school into his company’s office space, Joe decided to move The Gallina Companies offices from Madison’s west side to the Hoff Mall. The lower-level antique center became offices, and a new atrium grand staircase was installed to enter that level. “It was the smartest thing we did for our business,” he remarks.
Then in 2014, Joe continued to make improvements to the building—refurbishing windows with marble sills, repairing the parapet walls, tuck pointing, and installing a new parking lot. Recently, Joe renovated all 12 one-bedroom apartments on the second floor with new wood floors, modern appliances, large kitchens, and some with 10-foot ceilings. Amenities include an on-site laundry and on-site fitness center. “This is the favorite part of my job, providing quality housing projects—places that people enjoy and can truly call a home.”
Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.