Whenever a youth hunter brings a deer into Tom Bergholz’ store for the first time, their mood would be best characterized as “tickled,” according to Tom.
“You can’t shut them up,” he said.
Even though Tom’s Guns and Custom Woodworking ended its deer processing service this year, the 44-year-old Marshall business plans to remain a pillar of the local hunting scene for years to come. Owners Tom and Julie Bergholz will still sell guns and hunting supplies, and host youth hunts.
A true family business, several generations of the Bergholz family have lived on the store’s second floor at 215 W. Main St. Tom’s parents Eldon and Shirley started Bergholz Grocery at the location in 1948, running the enterprise until Eldon (known around Marshall as Mike) died in a 1971 car crash.
When Tom and Julie married in 1975, they assumed full control of the grocery store and introduced deer processing services. Three years later, the couple decided to start Tom’s Guns, which shared the retail space with Bergholz Grocery until the turn of the millennium.
The Bergholz’ raised their daughters in the store, and now the couple’s grandchildren can be found spending time at the shop.
“Our two girls (Jenelle and Josalyn) grew up in the business and their friends still talk this day about how they loved coming and helping and seeing the stuff going on,” Julie said.
While many larger retail businesses have popped up in the last 44 years, the local store continues to bring in business.
Tom’s Guns ability to thrive alongside big box stores such as Cabela’s is a testament to the Bergholz’ personal service and involvement in the community, Julie said.
“Somebody's actually going to pay attention to you and care,” she said. “People can bring a gun back in here if they're having problems with it. Tom will take them out shooting and show them how to take it down. We personally care about our customers.”
They pair continue to be advocates for hunting by organizing a spring turkey hunt every April and a waterfowl hunt, which includes geese and ducks, in September. The events have attracted hunters from across the state, including former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefish, and even people from other countries, such as Germany.
Film crews have come out too, ranging from media groups in Ohio to members of French public broadcasting.
“Two years ago we probably hosted the biggest (hunt) in the country,” Tom said.
The event featured 95 youth hunters along with countless mentors showing them the ropes.
Julie reaches out through social media to promote the hunts, while Tom does his best to persuade store walk-ins.
“Every time Tom will say to them, ‘Have you ever turkey hunted?’ and then he will do a sales pitch on them that they should try,” Julie said. “The nice part about trying it is they've never hunted before. We (use) these wonderful mentors and they teach them what it's all about. If they like it, a hunter is born.”
One boy was “all choked up” when he got his first bird two years ago with Tom. Even an 89-year-old man from Madison once went on his first hunt under Tom’s guidance.
“I called three birds in and he couldn't hear and see good,” Tom chuckled. “They were coming, so I had to get his attention. I took a stone and threw it and hit him on the side of his cheek. He looks up and shoots one of my $100 decoys.”