Taking one last walk through the empty buildings that were once Topel’s Towing and Repair on South Main Street, Violet Topel sees the legacy of her family, a legacy that will now live on in a new service center on the site. But the continued prosperity of the family business doesn’t make watching over 70 years in customer service, in the form of cinderblocks and metal falling to the ground, any easier.
The family watched last week as the buildings built by Clifford Topel in 1948 were demolished by Forest Construction of Lake Mills. The demolition brought up memories of a lifetime, including the old candy case, chips hanging from the ceiling and the ice cream in the back freezer. It brings up the memories of hometown service and an attendant to pump your gas.
The service center is now operated by Dan and Tara Topel, Cliff’s son and daughter-in-law, and they take great pride in providing hometown service in Lake Mills. They broke ground on the new 14,000 square ft. service center Monday.
Tara Topel said the idea for the redevelopment started about 10 years ago, long before the road construction project.
“We knew for a long time we wanted to get better, but we had a tiny little sewer pipe coming across the road and we knew we didn’t have what it took to change the infrastructure.”
Tara said she first discussed the project with Lake Mills City Manager Steve Wilke a number of years ago.
“It’s been a long haul and the road got redone and he was able to get the TIF put into place and I think that’s a lot of hard work and dedication to the city that’s already great, but we know it can be better,” she said.
Tara also mentioned Cliff Topel, who passed away in January, saying he knew of the project, but probably not the magnitude of it.
“He knew that it needed to happen, and we had his blessing. He had his own ideas of how he wanted it done,” she said referencing the original building and saying he changed the boundary in the middle of the night from the way his father wanted it built.
“He was able to have it the way he wanted it. I know he would support us and thank you to Vi, Pam and Mark for all of your support.”
She also thanked additional family members, their service center employees and others in attendance.
“To go into the future, we have to pay homage to the past,” said Matt Krogman, business development consultant, Friede & Associates. “The Topel family has deep roots within this community and I think with this development those roots grow deeper.”
Mike Foster, Lake Mills City Council President said, “I’m so thankful you guys took on this project. This is a great time to do this, along with all the road construction down here you are going to make this end of town a great place to visit.”