Appleton and the Fox Cities of Wisconsin are a great place to live and to shop. This "Consumer's Guide to the Fox Valley" supplements my Appleton, Wisconsin page, providing my personal perspectives on consumer shopping in the area. All opinions are those of Jeff Lindsay, a local resident. If you have suggestions or corrections, please share them. Also be sure to see the Appleton, Wisconsin Blog for more information. For dining, be sure to see "Dining in the Fox Valley" for my guide to restaurants.
Table of Contents
- Basic Survival: Groceries, Meat, Cheese
- Malls and Concentrated Shopping
- Gasoline and Convenience Stores
- TV, Digital Services in the Fox Valley
- Cell Phone Service
- Furniture and Appliance
- Arts, Hobbies, and the Unusual
- Finding Apartments
- Cemeteries and Funeral Homes
- Various Services and Contractors, Repairs, etc.
- Christmas Trees
- Government Services
I've done grocery shopping in just about every store in the area, but the one I recommend most for people who want to save serious money is Aldi Foods, which is often called "Aldi's." It's amazing how much less many things cost at Aldi's. German efficiency is behind this low-budget store, and it pays off for the consumer. It's a small store with a small selection of items, but they get the lowest price in the area time and time again, and some of their private label brands are remarkably good, such as their chocolate (imported from Germany and very inexpensive). I often need to supplement my trip to Aldi's with a quick visit somewhere else like my Copps to get an item not available at Aldi's. There are some items that might not meet your standards, so some trial and error will be needed. Produce demands special care. They don't have a normal produce section, but offer a limited variety of items that are prepackaged or sold by the unit, not by weight. I strongly recommend their packaged spinach in the refrigerated section, next to the mushrooms. The spinach costs half what most other stores pay, and the quality has been surprisingly good. Using mushrooms, spinach, peppers, and bacon from Aldi, my wife makes a killer spinach salad that we have frequently. The sharp cheddar at Aldi's is another item I strongly recommend.
Aldi's won't take credit cards, but they do take ATM cards. You can even get cash back.
Wal-Mart: My Love-Hate Relationship
Wal-Mart has been hard to resist sometimes because the huge superstore in southeast Appleton (Calumet Street, just east of 441) is close to home and has so many products, but many times I come away less than thrilled. For one thing, the traffic around the store is pretty congested, and their parking lot has one of the worst designs I've seen for flow in and out (not even up to medieval standards) - seems like an accident waiting to happen. It's a huge store that forces you to wander for a long time to find things, and they don't seem very service oriented. Between the crowded parking lot and the too-frequent long lines, my attitude is expressed by a statement from Yogi Berra about a restaurant he used to like: "Nobody goes there anymore - it's too crowded."
Wal-Mart is supposedly a master of the supply chain, but I went to buy a video cable there recently and was told that they were out of stock, and that it would be over a week before it was in stock again. The reason: they were doing an inventory check, and during that time they didn't want to have a lot of excess inventory, so less was being ordered than normal. That seems downright silly.
I used to get a lot of my photos printed there, but they have recently (early 2007) "upgraded" their machines for entering your photos, resulting in a dramatic and painful loss of convenience. The system takes at least TWICE as long to select photos as before, plus they've raised prices a lot. Further, the finish of the photos varies - without warning or the ability to select it - depending on the final option you select to specify if the photos will be processed within an hour or in a few days. The latter option saves you money and results in high gloss photos. The former option costs more, as expected, and gives you the matte finish that most people prefer. Less convenient and much more expensive, especially the 8 x 10s - not sure I'll be back.
Tips for Aldi's: bring your own grocery bags so you won't have to purchase bags there (5 cents per paper sack, 10 cents for the big and durable Aldi plastic bag). Also bring a quarter, for you have to insert a quarter into your shopping cart to unlock it from a security system. You get your quarter back when you're done. If you forget to bring a quarter, you can cash a dollar at the cashier.
Aldi's won't meet all your needs and sometimes people just don't want to shop at a budget grocer. My other favorite place is Copps, which has a great produce section now, reasonable prices, and nearly all the major brand names and upscale products you might want. They have a great organic foods section, good breads and baked goods, a deli, and pretty good meats. Copps offers a happy medium for those looking for a nice facility without terribly high prices. To take advantage of sales prices, you'll definitely want to use the Copps loyalty card. You may or may not appreciate their enormous liquor section--an alcoholic can wander for days. I think it's way overdone, but I guess that's where the money is, eh?
Pick and Save is now owned by the same company, Roundy's, so what they offer is pretty much the same. other choices for a chance of pace include Piggly Wiggly (yes, that's the real name!), Festival Foods, or Woodman's. Woodman's has a huge selection (i.e., you'll wander for a long time to do your shopping!) and has fairly long lines at check out - shopping takes a long time there, in my opinion. They doesn't use loyalty cards. They have a great produce section with excellent prices.
Many people get their groceries at Wal-Mart. It can be convenient to get groceries at the same time as shopping for clothing, toys, electronics, and other items. However, I can usually find better prices or a better selection at dedicated grocery stores.
For spices, you need to know about Penzeys Spices near the Fox River Mall (strip mall area near TJ Maxx and Gateway Computer, close to TGI Fridays). If you love spices, like I do, you won't find better prices on spices anywhere. Price spices are less than half of what you pay in a grocery store, with a vastly better selection. It's an educational experience just to enter the store.
For cheese, Woodman's has a huge selection, including a lot of imported cheese, and relatively low prices for their domestic cheese. My favorite cheese place is the new (2007) Arthur Bay Cheese Company in south Appleton. Simon's Cheese on the north end of town (Highway N, a little west of Highway 41) has a huge selection and reasonable prices, but is a bit outside of town.
For meat, I love Cedar Creek Meat Market. They have helped me overcome my vegetarian tendencies (or rather, when meat is called for, I can be sure to find something worth serving there). They have two locations: Cedar Creek West, just south of Timber Rattlers Stadium (1894 N. Casaloma Drive) and the original Cedar Creek on Northland Ave. (3220 E Northland Ave, just east of the intersection of 441 and OO). But don't miss Appleton's historic source of meats, Jacob's Meat Market, a historic institution that has stayed in place since 1945, when little grocers were all over town, almost on every corner. Jacob's is one of the few such places that have survived all these years. They produce outstanding German sausages and a variety of other meats. They even sell their own pizza.
Appleton has one of the best malls in Wisconsin, the Fox River Mall. Large, clean, attractive, safe, and easily accessible (except around Christmas when everyone is going there and traffic jams up). It's right off of Highway 41 between College Avenue and Wisconsin. The mall itself is terrific, but all around the mall are a rich variety of additional shops and restaurants (even a Wal-Mart supercenter, Best Buy, and Goodwill are nearby), making that region a premier shopping area.
Downtown Appleton is another beautiful and fun place to shop. We have City Center Plaza (a.k.a. the Avenue Mall) there with a few fun shops, but most of the fun is along downtown College Avenue where we have a large number of small shops, boutiques, art galleries, great restaurants, and fun places to hang out. Spend some time there and enjoy casual shopping in the heart of one of America's great small towns.
Kwik-Trip is my favorite place to get gasoline. The prices are low, the gas has been good, and they have the best prices in town for bananas (29 cents a pound), plus cheap bread (3 loaves for a dollar) and other convenience items. Recently they introduced a Swedish rye bread for 69 cents a loaf with a remarkably good texture and flavor. Kwik-Trip appeals to me because they don't market pornographic magazines. On the other hand, I deliberately avoid Citgo stores because they sell porn, and have it displayed at a low level where kids are likely to encounter it. Tacky! They also get their gas from Venezuela, a nation that is hostile to the United States and the cause of freedom. OK, that's true of many some nations we get oil from as well--tough call.
US Oil's many Express stations are classy places with good prices, too, and US Oil is a local Fox Cities company. They are very community minded and have some great people working for them.
Another good choice for convenience stores is Motomart, which offers very well-lit, modern facilities with a wide variety of items besides gasoline. Excellent granola bars can be purchased for 25 cents each at Motomart.
I recently bought gas at a green-looking BP (British Petroleum) gas station on Oneida Street, and noted that they carried pornographic magazines readily visible on a low section of a magazine rack, where even a two-year-old could gain access. I pointed out that this was inappropriate, and warned that little kids could get at the magazines that way. The employee just shrugged his shoulders, totally unconcerned. I then said that I felt it was a bad thing for the community to have store selling pornography at all, for it devalues women and makes people think they are just toys, and said that I would not plan to do business there. Again, the employee simply did not care. My advice: stay away from BP and other stores that show this kind of calloused attitude. Q-Mart in Menasha has a similar track record, unfortunately. But hey, it's your call and maybe you see that as a plus.
Time Warner used to be the only serious choice in town for cable TV, but now we've got AT&T's Uverse service (or satellite, of course). We used Time Warner for years but were often frustrated with support and services offered. We recently switched to AT&T and have been impressed.
One of the more serious problems with Time Warner involved electronic bill pay. I'll spare you the story of our Kafkaesque adventure, and simply wish them luck in updating their systems and service.
We are currently using Spring and the once-promising Palm Pre phones. It's been a painful journey and we still don't get very good reception in our home, but that may change. We used to have US Cellular and they offered a great plan but coverage was too limited--painful. For iPhone users with AT&T, I hear many complaints about dropped signals and poor coverage. Good luck! But expanded iPhone options may allow you to find a better provider.
If you are getting a new cell phone service, test it carefully in the places where you will be using it.
Several companies provide service here, such as Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and US Cellular. I'd be interested in hearing your experiences.
For clothes and many other items, my family enjoys shopping at Kohls, where we find pretty good prices and a great selection. They have some significant sale events for some areas where you can find good items being discounted 50% or so. But recently we observed that a 50% off sale on sweaters showed sticker prices that had doubled compared to the non-sale prices we saw a few days before, so the sale was entirely bogus.
Burlington Coat Factory is the first place to look for coats, can offer low prices on many other items like sweaters, ties, shirts, linens, and some other items, but there is a greater risk of not finding the size or style you want.
For men, I used to recommend Men's Wearhouse, where I've been a steady customer. Great service and excellent quality at reasonable prices. We've also used them for formal wear with good results.
Barnes and Noble on the west side of Appleton is a huge book store, and a great place for a date, in my opinion. They have a pleasant cafe and comfortable places to sit. The selection is large (though weak in some areas, such as scholarly religious literature or books on my hobbies of magic or chess). One can also listen to many dozens of selected CDs with earphones to help you decide what music to buy.
We have a variety of used book stores in the Valley and other book stores as well. Where do you shop?
Our last car was purchased at Bergstrom's Victory Lane Imports just east of Highway 41 and north of Northland Ave.). Pete Holt was the salesman we worked with. Very impressed with the help and the prices. We're the happy owners of a used Hyundai Sonata.
For car repairs, I've often used Cair Car Sales and Service, 1040 Appleton Road, Menasha (920-725-7222). I think they are pretty good and definitely honest, but we recently had a couple problems - at the moment I'm not sure that it's the best place for us, but I'll still use them. Since I'm a fan of Toyotas, I've had a lot of service done at Kolosso Toyota, and while they've been OK, I can generally save money at Cair.
I've also heard that Pete's on Wisconsin Avenue (actually 2006 N. Meade, 920-734-7630) offers reliable, honest service at good prices. Customers have also praised Fulton's (540 N. Oneida, 920-991-0940).
As far as I know, most local dealers are reasonably trustworthy.
Over the years, we've had experience with several different retailers of furniture and appliances. Our favorite is probably WG&R Furniture (2700 West College Avenue, 920-733-2788). The selection is huge (sofas, tables, chairs, beds, accessories, etc.). They also offer the best warranty I've seen on beds, and usually have excellent prices. The sales staff seem especially knowledgeable, helpful, and non-pushy. I was especially impressed with the kindness and aid from one of the salesmen, a Mr. Hoppe, as I recall.
If you are in the market for a bed, I would seriously consider WG&R, especially because of their almost-unheard-of guarantee. It's the only place I know of where you can actually return a bed if you don't like it, even after you've slept on it. They can't resell the bed, so they end up donating it to charity. This means real commitment to customer satisfaction.
American Furniture has a large selection of appliances, electronics, and furniture, and we've been customers, but customer service is weak, based on my most recent experience and reports from others. But they may be fine for you. A small but excellent source of appliances is Howie Voigt Appliance (1609 North Richmond Street, 920-733-2045). They specialize in appliances such as refrigerators, washers and dryers. Prices are good and service is excellent. We've had good results with them and also have used them for repairs.
Appleton offers a lot in the way of the arts. A favorite place of mine for art and fun is Coventry Glass Works and Gallery at 514 W. College Avenue (920-739-5762). We go there regularly so my youngest son can buy unusual marbles for his collection. They have a large assortment with some beautiful and unusual marbles. I also love the art they sell, including some beautiful works in glass, multimedia, and oil paintings. A new addition to the shop (2003) is a stand of hand-made greeting cards from a Wisconsin artist, with really interesting lines and decorations, at remarkably low prices, as low as $2.50, for example. One that I bought has color drawings of 3 leaves on the front, with the following text in calligraphy:
The reason why I'm a vegetarian isn't because I love animals.
I just hate plants.
The proprietors of Coventry Glass Works are fun, thoughtful people who really love their work. and if you work with glass as an artist or hobbyist, their shop is loaded with supplies and raw materials for your work.
Appleton has a large number of music suppliers. My family has done more business with Heid Music (308 E College Ave, Appleton, phone: 920-734-1969). Heid has a great selection of sheet music and good supplies for those playing piano, stringed instruments, etc. Another music store is Island Music in Neenah.
Hobby Lobby near the mall is a huge store for hobbyists and a great place for decorating your home. Galaxy Hobby on Richmond Avenue has supplies to support hobbies like rocketry, model airplanes, model trains, and many science-related hobbies. They also have some great games and puzzles (Rush Hour, for example, which I really like).
Unusual items can be found in Appleton's thrift shops. We have two large Goodwill outlets, plus the Fox Valley Thrift Store, St. Vincent de Paul, and other outlets. They are worth looking into if you want to save a buck or find a treasure.
Looking for US or foreign coins? Appleton has a couple of coin shops to consider, but I know trust the people at Avenue Coin & Jewelry, 303 E College Avenue, (920) 731-4740. Also a great place for jewelry.
I've taken up photography as a hobby (I have several pages of my favorite photos), and have tried a few places for developing digital photos. The best place I know of for high-quality work and especially for enlargements bigger than 8 x 10 is Phopar. I've had marvelous success with their 11 x 14-inch enlargements - just beautiful! Really added to the fun of some weddings in my family and beyond. I recently did a 20 x 28 enlargement of a Newport Beach scene, and it was terrific as well. Takes a few days, at a cost of just over $8 per enlargement (11 x 14) or less depending on order size.
I've also had good results at Murray Photos in downtown Appleton. This is where I've been going for my camera supplies recently as well. I bought my Nikon D-90 there and other components, and have been pleased with the service and expertise. I can go in with a question about a feature and get immediate help. Sweet! They also do a great job with prints and other services.
For one-hour processing, I've used Wal-Mart a lot for 4x6, 5x7, and 8x10 shots. They have the lowest prices for local developers, but I've had a couple disappointments when their equipment failed or when I ran into long waits to get my order in. One reproducible problem with Wal-Mart's system, at least in the Darboy supercenter, is that strong yellows may become green (e.g., a yellow flower may appear to have a metallic green color in the middle of each major yellow zone, sometimes destroying the value of the photo) - it's been a noticeable problem in only about 1% of my photos. Now CVS is where I go when I want 1-hour processing for 4 x 6 photos (they can handle 8 x 10's as well). Walgreens is OK also.
Fox Valley Photo is a good place to get photography equipment, but my experience with photo developing there did not turn out well - probably my fault. Others tell me that it's outstanding.
A good apartment and rental finding service is Start Renting, Inc., which published a widely used listing of places available to rent. They also have a Web site: startrenting.com. Call 920-997-9500.
Appleton has some beautiful cemeteries and several choices for funeral homes. Cemeteries in town include St. Joseph Cemetery, Riverside Cemetery, and Appleton Highland Memorial Park Cemetery. Funeral homes include Wichmann Funeral Homes, Valley Funeral Home, and Brettschneider-Trettin-Lederer Funeral Chapel. I'm most familiar with the good people at Wichmann and feel comfortable recommending them.
We have often used Memorial Florists and Greenhouse in south Appleton with good results as well. They provided the flowers we used for my son's wedding (I have a page of wedding photos that I took). They are at 2320 South Memorial Drive. Phone: (920) 731-3136.
There are many fine workmen and contractors in the Fox Cities Area. I'll occasionally add recommendations here based on my knowledge.For plumbing, I was recently extremely impressed with the expertise and service I received from master plumber Andy Nielsen of Performance Plumbing, LLC. They are based in Shiocton but do a lot of work in Appleton and the Fox Valley. Performance Plumbing Services can be reached at (920) 585-5370. He quickly diagnosed a problem that others had missed (or caused, frankly), and explained to me how my do-it-yourself effort to fix the problem had missed a couple of subtleties and eventually failed. He is a great educator as well as a skilled plumber. Very impressed! I learned about Andy from my favorite building expert in the Valley, Bradd Syring of Syring Homes.
For electrical work, I've had a very positive experience with Steffens Electric (4902 N. Lynndale Drive, 920-739-6569). I called in during Christmas Vacation in Dec. 2005 to get some work done in our basement. To my delight, they had a guy who was already going to be in the area the same day that could stop by. I needed him to install to new electrical outlets on a cement basement wall in a finished area, and also check the outlets in my office area where I suspected some kind of overheating in an outlet. He got the new outlets installed rapidly and professionally, and then checked all five outlets in the office where he found one that showed signs of overheating and needed to be replaced. He was here for two hours, helped me explore several options for the work to be done, and did excellent work. When I got my bill in the mail, I was surprised to see how inexpensive it was: $108 for parts and labor. Hats off to Steffens Electric for great work at a reasonable price.
I had a great experience with Bruss Heating and Cooling (920-740-2559). One of their service men, Tom, was able to come to my home on short notice to repair a complex problem with our furnace. I called them the night before, about 10:00 p.m. on a Friday, and was delighted to reach a living person who said they could be there the next morning. Tom showed up a 7:15 a.m., right on time, and within minutes found the problem (failed transformer and a shorted wire). He was able to make the repairs on the spot, and also noted a problem with our air condition unit that would need to be addressed in the spring. The cost for parts and labor was $103, which was less than I expected. He was very knowledgeable and thorough. A big thumbs up for Bruss Heating and Cooling!
For granite and stonework, we had a great experience with Darboy Stone and Brick. They put granite in our kitchen, and we were quite impressed with their service, their excellent selection, and their prices. They seemed to have the largest selection of granite to choose from and an impressive shop for fabricating the stone to your specifications. Installation was rapid and well done.
For several years, I've enjoyed buying Christmas trees from Jahnke's in the outskirts of town, W6390 Woodland Road, Menasha (phone: 920-735-8910). A barn has a big selection of trees, and there are more outside the barn, with good prices and great service. Mr. Jahnke is pure Wisconsin: a warm, honest, helpful man filled with Midwest charm. He makes it worth an extra couple of miles to buy a tree from his place. Plus shopping in the barn spares you from Wisconsin winds. Woodland Road is off of Lake Park Avenue (Highway LP) between Midway Road and Highway 114, southeast of Appleton. Once you turn east onto Woodland, Jahnke's is about 100 yards from Lake Park Avenue on the north side of the street.
Government officials in the Fox Valley are usually a cut above what people are used to elsewhere in the country. OK, I had a bad experience a few years ago with unhelpful bureaucrats in our local Social Security Office when I was trying to help some friends. If you've read The Castle by Franz Kafka, you might already know something about how things work. But generally, we have good Midwest folks who care about their neighbors in many government offices.
The Dept. of Motoro Vehicles in Appleton, for example, has upgraded their facility and I had a great experience last time I was there.
Here are some more businesses that I have used and liked, or that I am familiar with (e.g., know the owners). I've just begun this list, so it's pretty short still. I welcome your suggestions - many times I don't know the URL for local businesses.
- Appleton Trophy - good place for trophies, plaques, etc.
- Two Paws Up Bakery - an awesome place for gourmet biscuits for pets. I don't have any dogs or cats at the moment, but know the owners and enjoy the shop.