“It’s been a good ride!” John and Judy Schild reflect on 20-year ownership of Eagle’s Nest Gallery as they prepare for retirement in July

A picture-perfect retirement ... John and Judy Schild of Lansing stand among some of the prints and frame and matting work they have on display at the Eagle’s Nest Gallery on Main Street in Lansing. The Schilds will be retiring in mid-July from the business venture they’ve enjoyed in Lansing for the past 20 years, with that business and the building in which it is housed both available for sale. Photo by Susan Cantine-Maxson.

What “matters” most ... John Schild works the mat cutter at Eagle’s Nest Gallery on Main Street in Lansing. He and his wife, Judy, will be retiring from their business of 20 years in mid-July of this year. Photo by Susan Cantine-Maxson.

by Susan Cantine-Maxson

“We’ve met a lot of great people; it’s been nothing but fun,” is the sentiment John and Judy Schild express as they reflect back on their 20-year ownership of the Eagle’s Next Gallery and frame shop in Lansing. The Schilds will be retiring in mid-July and the shop will close unless an interested buyer comes along to keep it going.

The business has been a mainstay on Lansing’s Main Street. “Only the Other Place bar and the dentist have been here with the same owners as long as we have in this block of Main Street. Some of the businesses are the same but with different owners,” Judy said.

This is a second retirement for the Schilds. Their venture into the framing business was a series of seemingly unrelated events. Twenty years ago, John was retiring as a machinist from John Deere in Waterloo. They had a trailer in the Wexford area so they could get away from the city in the summer. They also had an appreciation of prints and often visited a print and framing shop in Denver, near Waterloo.

One day, the owner, Rich, told them they ought to open a frame shop and gallery in Lansing. The idea jelled, and they began looking for a spot. They found a building on Main Street in Lansing. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 1998, John retired from John Deere and the Friday after Thanksgiving, they opened the Eagle’s Nest.

The name came from a suggestion by a friend. They were all on the river together and the friend looked up and saw an eagle’s nest and said, “How about Eagle’s Nest Gallery?” It worked and seemed to fit so it became their name. Judy also quit her job in clerical at Control-O-Fax in Waterloo so that she and John could run the new venture together.

Neither one had any experience in framing but the friend from Denver became a mentor, offering advice and showing John  how to frame and how to cut a mat. John  then showed Judy how to cut a mat. John said, “He gave us some old mat and we began practicing for about three months before we opened. He told us what companies to order from and got us set up with the factory reps.”

Judy added, “The factory reps from the framing companies were really good back then. They offered lots of suggestions as to what was popular or what was the best equipment to use. Now we pretty much work with one company that we feel has the best quality. We order the wood for the frames by eight- to 12-foot lengths and we cut it to fit. The whole basement is full of molding. We probably have about 4,000 feet of molding for frames yet if anyone is interested. We have a lot of mat board on hand as well.”

Over the years, people from all across the world have stopped in their shop. Some items have gone as far away as England. The most unusual item they’ve framed was a horse’s tail. Judy laughed, “Yes, they wanted this horse’s tail in a shadowbox with some pictures of them with the horse and some other horse paraphernalia. It really turned out pretty neat.  We’ve framed rabbit fur as well. Some of the family memorabilia we’ve framed are military medals and keepsakes. The biggest frame was around a mirror that was about five-foot. We went to the house and framed it on the site.”

John furthered, “We’ve literally sold hundreds, maybe thousands of Black Hawk Bridge pictures and pictures of the river. We should have kept count!”

In addition, they’ve framed original artwork as well as prints and photos that people have brought in addition to prints they have stocked at the shop. With the experience of many years behind them, they’ve developed a keen eye as to what color mat and style of frame puts a particular picture in the best setting.

John  continued, “We’ve developed a loyal clientele over the years. We’ve never really advertised a lot or had a web site. Most clientele hear about us from word of mouth. Not many shops or big box stores can beat our prices, so we’ve remained very competitive. Now the print sales have gone downhill but the frame shop is definitely still a service that is viable.”

They have worked hard to make customer service their main objective. Judy said, “We have a lot of tourists who bring a picture in one day and we try to have it ready for them within a few hours or by the next day because they may only be here over the weekend.”

They tried to keep enough product stocked so that they could complete a project with the stock on hand. When they first opened, they thought the months before Christmas would be the busiest times but they soon realized that they stayed busy year-round with business from many tourists as well as local residents. The slowest time of year was April.

The secret to their success? Both agree that businesses in small towns such as Lansing have to offer a service to be successful. Regardless of where people live, they still have needs that must be met. If a business can offer a service which meets those needs in a timely and affordable way, they can stay in business a long time.

The building and the business are both for sale, but regardless if they are sold, the last frame will be placed by mid-July. Their regular business hours have been Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. but John said, “When we needed to go somewhere, we just closed the shop. It will be an adjustment not coming to work every day, but It’s been an adventure and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish we’d taken a picture of each unique piece that we’ve done. It’s been a good ride.”

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