Bruce owns Martha Merrell’s bookstore, 231 W. Main St.,
with his wife Eve. The duo is celebrating 25 years of
business. Here, Norm shows off some of the selection of
kids’ activities the store carries.
Ashley Haynes/Freeman Staff
WAUKESHA — Plenty
has changed for business owners in downtown Waukesha
over the years. The streets have shifted from one-way to
two, longtime staples have come and gone, and — of
course — several construction projects have been
But over the last 25 years, one thing has not changed.
Martha Merrell’s Books has become a landmark of the
Waukesha community, deeply ingrained into the events and
offerings that attract many to the downtown area.
“Our store runs now with having niches in a couple
different areas,” said Norm Bruce, who owns and runs the
Main Street shop with his wife, Eve. “We’re a
destination. When you come to downtown Waukesha, people
always seem to find things in the store.”
As the duo celebrates 25 years of all things Martha
Merrell’s, it’s only natural to reminisce on those first
days of running the business and how they’ve adapted in
an ever-changing retail landscape.
Martha Merrell’s first opened its doors in 1995, at the
current site of Allo! Chocolat.
“We had completed the transaction on a Friday and by
Saturday we were open for business,” Norm said. While
the business only dealt in books for several years, he
explained things changed in 2007 during the recession.
The addition of other products (stuffed animals,
puzzles, calendars, etc.) soon came as Martha Merrell’s
and Cuddles combined.
Norm explained that Martha Merrell’s has remained a
Waukesha staple due in large part to the fact that the
business is so active in the community.
He said Martha Merrell’s was actually the driving force
behind the first Harry Potter festival in the country in
the late 90s, which involved several shops downtown. He
said as he was trying to get one of the-then downtown
business owners (who owned a vacuum shop on South
Street) to take part in the festival, she asked “How
would that benefit me?”
“I said, oh my gosh, you can make the Nimbus 2000 broom,” Norm quipped.
“She said, ‘I’ve never had so many people in my store.’”
He added that the bookstore sold 500 Harry Potter books
in one week.
During the height of the Harry Potter craze, Norm said
he really noticed the reading habits of kids who were
becoming disinterested in reading begin to shift.
“We’ve just been innovative in those kinds of ways,”
Merrell’s bookstore, 231 W. Main St., in downtown
celebrating 25 years of business.
Ashley Haynes/Freeman Staff
Norm said that while anyone can go online to order a
book, they’re missing out on the expertise and
recommendations they would get by stopping by the store.
Norm and Eve Bruce pride themselves in being able to
help guests find whatever they need — no matter how
rare, Norm explained.
‘We’re kind of like book detectives. We kind of pride
ourselves in if we can’t find it, it’s not readily
available,” Norm said.
One of the rarest books he has helped track down was one
on the subject of bicycles — of which there was only one
copy available from a shop in Paris.
He added that if Waukesha residents and visitors alike
appreciate the offerings of businesses downtown, they
need to continue to support them.
Another period that stands out within the bookstore’s
25-year history was when Cinnamon Rose, a golden
retriever, was a part of the family, Norm explained.
“She was exceptional because she would come out and
greet everybody. When she passed, people would bring
flowers and other things so it was like a memorial,” he
Cinnamon served as the bookstore greeter since Norm and
Eve bought the store in 1995, up until 2005. The 60pound
canine trotted from behind the counter before leaning
softly into each pair of legs.
When the couple first bought the store, there were just
three restaurants in the downtown area — and business
owners operated in a rougher environment than they do
today, Norm said. He said he called the police seven
times in his first week of business, but by coming
together with other owners and adopting a community
policing approach, they were able to help turn things
“I just think Waukesha is in a really great place. We
want to see Waukesha continue to grow and thrive,” Norm