PdC gift shop going out of business after 23 years

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Lucille Berns, of Avalo Designs, proudly stands amid a few of the creations she and her husband, Avalo or “Al,” handmade over the years. Avalo Designs is going out of business after 23 years at their little gift shop in Prairie du Chien. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

As times have evolved over the past 23 years, so has the collection of unique merchandise at Avalo Designs in Prairie du Chien. Lucille and Avalo “Al” Berns have sold handmade wooden creations, religious and inspirational gifts, framed pictures and more at their retail store all those years. But, since they’ve continued working well past retirement age, and they’re ready for a well-deserved break, the time has come to go out of business. A storewide sale is going on now until an undetermined date, when they will hold a garage sale to further disperse of the retail.

“We have mixed feelings (about closing) after being here so long,” Lucille said. “We’ve gotten to know such nice people over the years, but we’re getting older and I’m tired of getting up every morning.”

Avalo Designs opened at 934 South Marquette Road on April 6, 1992. The couple had moved to Prairie du Chien from northeast Iowa and ran Garden City Floral in the Commerce Court Mall for several years before starting the gift shop.

“It was a time when crafts were very popular. The country look was in,” Lucille recalled. “My floral designs were selling well over and above regular price and my husband did woodwork, so we knew we had something.”

Over the years, Avalo’s line of products expanded to include a little bit of everything one might expect to find in a gift shop, including those one-of-a-kind items rarely found elsewhere. According to Lucille, the store is nearly the only one within a 60-mile radius that carries such a wide variety of religious articles.

“Religious items have been a constant for us from day one,” she said. “I’ve tried to find someone to take on our full line of these but I’ve had no luck.”

Such merchandise includes children’s religious books, prayer books, music boxes, crosses, rosaries, pictures, statues, Bibles, first communion veils and purses, baptismal gifts, anniversary presents, angels, bookmarks, cards, magnets, coffee cups, jewelry, light catchers, wind chimes, etc.

Some of the most desired pieces sold at Avalo Designs are Al’s oak furniture and household decor. These beautifully-crafted, solid “works of art,” which are all now for sale, include coffee tables, end table sets, hall tables, waste basket cabinets, basket weave hampers, hall trees and coat hook boards, lazy Susans, bread boxes, spice cabinets, wine cabinets, shadow boxes, plate holders, clocks, doll cradles and beds, quilt racks and shelves of many sizes, kitchen wrap dispensers, children’s rocking chairs, a podium and more. Lucille proudly showed off her husband’s talents during a recent tour of the shop.

“We have one couple who comes here every year from La Grange, Ill. They have some of our wooden items in every room of their house,” Lucille noted.

Avalo Designs has purchased most of its merchandise over the years from exclusive distributors. They also made a lot themselves. In addition to Al’s woodwork, Lucille started crocheting names in 1997 and, in 2005, she began putting together three-dimensional pictures—both of which Al custom frames. She has always sold silk flowers and arrangements, but those have lost popularity among customers since the early years.

“I have boxes of craft ribbons of all sizes and colors for sale. People just aren’t into that sort of thing anymore,” Lucille said. “Times have changed a great deal. Crafts have basically gone away. A lot of the manufacturers don’t even make certain products anymore.” She noted one example of that, Fenton crystal, which was in demand for 100 years, went out of business more than six years ago.
As the sale continues at Avalo, everything down to the display fixtures with glass and shelving, and lighted cases, is available to buying customers.

“As times change, people have gotten into electronics a lot more,” Lucille stated. “The young ones just don’t buy these types of things anymore. Giftware is a lot less widespread these days.”

Once the doors officially close on the charming little gift shop, Lucille and Al will miss the customers most of all, but plan to still see friends and acquaintances at their church, St. Gabriel’s. They are excited about the opportunity to go fishing during the week, instead of only on Sunday when the store was closed.

“Prairie’s such a nice town with good people. Only 1 percent are stinkers,” Lucille said. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s kept my health up, physically and mentally. We’re ready to officially retire though.”

Avalo Designs is open Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 326-5410 for more information.

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