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New owner, products, rest is the same at Watkins

Gloria Watkins and Brandon Clare represent the recent change in ownership at Watkins Lockers in Plum City. Although Clare has taken over the business, he regards Watkins as part of the management team and said last week he hopes she continues there for at least another 20 years. (Herald photo by Bill Kirk)

PLUM CITY—Brandon Clare came in “cold” as the owner of Watkins Lockers in Plum City this fall and didn’t even change the name of the business to protect the innocent.

Actually, they’re the experienced veterans this newcomer to the butchering industry recruited to help him get acquainted with the local establishment. Not only did he keep the name of the family who has guided the locker plant for 66 years on its “shingle,” explaining last week he’s a rookie though not enough to do otherwise, but promised no additional changes except for some new products and remodeling plans.

Gloria Watkins, who’s stayed with the outlet under the new ownership, found Friday there’s more wholesale and store accounts now than when she began at the plant in the early 1970s. Back then, the place did a lot more custom beef and pork for the many more small farmers who populated the area at the time, she said. She tried to credit Clare with that change until he reminded her differently.

“You were already doing that,” he said, referring to the former owner team, including Bob and Doug Watkins.

So how did this novice end up owning this enterprise? Clare said he was most recently employed by a Durand firm who had him going on-the-road weekdays. When he told his wife, Erin, he was thinking about entering another occupation, she wondered why.

“Every Sunday afternoon I knew I’d have to leave you the next morning for five days,” he answered.

Aware of the availability of Watkins Lockers in his hometown, he eventually struck a deal with the long-time owners involving Bob’s assisting him for a year, he said. In the same regard, he hoped Gloria Watkins continues with him for at least 20 more years.

She remembered early in her own family’s tenure having slaughtering done at a former locker plant in Grange Hall. Around the mid-1970s, a slaughterhouse was built right at the locker plant’s site and still serves in downtown Plum City, the same location the plant has occupied its entire existence. Grandparents Earl and Deena Watkins originally started the business, which was passed on to their son Eldon and Phyllis before “the boys” (Bob and Doug) took it from them.

Clare’s already practicing in his new role for one of the busiest times of the year—gun-deer hunting, which opens this Saturday. He said he’s spent time working around the premises on several weekend days beyond regular hours. He understands between 30,000 and 50,000 pounds of deer trimmings are processed there in an average season (they don’t accept whole deer).

“Gloria’s going to be here at 4:30 on opening morning,” he joked, though seriously advised hunters to call for appointments at (715) 647-2554. “Everyone gets their own meat back,” he added.

For more please read the Nov. 20 print version of the Herald. 

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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