Long-time local employees share their sentiments as Waukon’s Shopko location closes its doors

Totaling 75 years of combined employee loyalty... Waukon Shopko location employees Laurie Brink, Rose Blake and Von Collins (left to right in the photo above) took a moment during the final days of the recent closing of the Waukon Shopko location to have this photo taken together. Brink and Collins are each 30-plus year employees of the business, having worked with the retail business through its transition from Pamida to Shopko and its relocation to the building that recently closed, with Blake being a more recent addition to the Shopko staff, but all three of them compiling memories they will carry with them long after the store’s June 23 closing. Photo by Kristin Kopperud-Stinn.

by Kristin Kopperud-Stinn

Shopko Hometown store, located at 819 Eleventh Avenue SW in Waukon, closed its doors forever June 23, 2019 after its parent company Shopko Stores Operating Co., LLC declared Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in January of this year.

Laurie Brink and Von Collins were two of the longest working employees at Shopko’s Waukon location. Both Brink and Collins started working at the store when it was still a Pamida and was located on Rossville Road, where the Waukon Banquet Center sits today.

Brink began working for Pamida in 1981 as a high school student through the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA). She worked in the office at Pamida doing administrative and payroll duties, continuing her administrative position for a total of 30 years. Nearly eight years ago Brink transferred to a position on the retail floor after Shopko dissolved her office administrative position. Brink said she enjoyed working both in the office and on the floor, stating that getting to know the customers was the best part.

Collins began working at Pamida in 1988, and says that she is sad to see Shopko go. In the last month before the store closed Collins said, “It has felt like one big continuous wake” as customers come through the store and give their condolences about Shopko’s closure.

Rose Blake, who worked at Shopko for the past six years, talked about her favorite parts of working at the store. Blake shared that she helped a son purchase clothes for his deceased mother’s viewing and burial. Another time she found a diabetic pump in the dressing room. All three ladies talked about delivering dinette sets to local customers and even visiting former customers who lived in nursing homes.

Brink and Collins shared that when they worked at Pamida it “felt like family.” They reminisced about participating in Waukon parades, hayrides and the annual Christmas Fantasy held in Waukon. Collins explained that it was less emotional when the old Pamida closed and the new one opened on Eleventh Avenue NW back in 1998. Even though it was sad to see the old store close, they were excited to set up a brand new building. In 2012 Pamida merged with Shopko and the store location in Waukon was retained until its June 23 closing this year.

Though Brink and Collins each worked for Pamida/Shopko for over 30 years, they received no severance package at the closing of the Waukon store. According to the employees, the Shopko location in Waukon was kept open until the very end of the bankruptcy process because the store had been profitable in its operation, a note worth pointing out to locals who supported that venture and retailers who may be interested in a location such as Waukon.

Despite the troubling end to Shopko’s existence, Collins said that her parents had raised her to work hard and to see a job through to its completion. She said she was proud that she had stuck with Shopko until the “very end.” However, she did admit that she’s excited to start enjoying the holiday seasons again.

Brink, Collins and Blake each shared their post-Shopko plans. Brink says she wants to spend time with her grandchildren and enjoy seeing the sun again. Collins wants to learn to enjoy the holidays and said, “I’m ready for something besides retail.” Blake would like to take a break and go fishing. Brink and Collins also shared they had made a pact that whatever their future holds it would likely not involve working retail again.

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