Oconomowoc’s own little European gift shop
The WeatherVane celebrating 40 years in business

BY ASHLEY HAYNES - Freeman Staff

June 17, 2017

Owner Jane Tremaine runs the WeatherVane gift shop from her home in Oconomowoc.
Ashley Haynes/Freeman Staff

OCONOMOWOC — Pulling up to the Weather-Vane gift shop will surely throw a first-time visitor for a loop.

At first glance, the shop doesn’t look like an actual business at all. Without a sign down the road informing visitors of its location, one would have a difficult time finding it. But once visitors step inside the gift shop, run from within owner Jane Tremaine’s home, they are greeted by a hidden trove of European goods, gathered from all over the Continent.

Tremaine says the shop was named after the well-known figure of a weathervane, because it can point to any direction. It symbolizes the different directions all around the world that her products arrive from. This year, the WeatherVane opened for its 40th season.

“My daughter always asks me how we stay in business out in the middle of a cornfield selling mostly things people don’t need,” said Tremaine. “If you sell things people can’t find anywhere else, people will come and seek you out. It’s a destination.”

Ceramics from Poland, Scandinavia and Estonia are especially popular gifts at the WeatherVane.
Ashley Haynes/Freeman Staff

The WeatherVane first opened in 1977. The shop was originally run from an attached garage on the property. It was more of a craft shop at first. Every year, for 25 years, Tremaine and her husband would travel to Nova Scotia and bring back handmade crafts. As the shop expanded, so did the inventory. An additional room was built to expand the store. After her husband retired from teaching and found a second job, Tremaine began to look into traveling to other foreign countries.

“He had taught social studies, so he wanted to see the countries he had spoken about and taught about,” said Tremaine.

At the same time, Tremaine’s daughter was living in Germany. In 1990, she was one of the first people to travel to small villages in the eastern part of the country after the Berlin Wall came down. Since 1991, Tremaine and her husband have gone back to Germany yearly to buy handmade goods from the craftsmen. The focus at WeatherVane is mainly on German goods, but gifts from Poland, Russia, Scandinavia, Estonia and even Africa can be found.

“The main thing that people come out here for now is Polish pottery,” said Tremaine. “We probably sell the most Polish pottery of any shop in Wisconsin.”

German smokers sell like hotcakes when the holiday season arrives. Here, Jane Tremaine prepares to strike a match and light a stick of incense to place inside the smoker.
Ashley Haynes/Freeman Staff

Special gifts, busy holidays, word of mouth

Each year, the Tremaines travel to Europe to order special gifts that are later exported. They keep the inventory of products in a stockroom downstairs in their home. The busiest time of the year for the WeatherVane is the holidays. Last year, around 300 German smokers were imported just for the season. A large inventory of nutcrackers, hand-painted Santas and Wendt & Kuhn Collectibles is necessary to keep up with the high demand.

“We probably do 90 percent of our business in December,” said Tremaine.

A lot of business at WeatherVane comes through word of mouth. Tremaine says that almost everyone who visits comes from out of town, looking for a special place to visit on a day trip. Her children still travel from all around the country to help her run booths during the store’s busy season.

 

Nutcrackers are also highly sought when the holiday season arrives.
Ashley Haynes/Freeman Staff

“We have no retirement plan and we should because we’re at the age now where we can’t do it forever,” said Tremaine. “When we’re finished, our children could still probably handle the inventory and the website.” For now, Tremaine jokes that she’ll keep on buying things for WeatherVane, regardless of her children’s wishes that she slow down her pace.

For more information on the WeatherVane girt shop, 8233 Pennsylvania St., visit www.weather-vane.com.