MONROE — In 2020, various shutdowns and stay at home orders in response to COVID-19 kept many people in southern Wisconsin at home. With more time than usual at home, a common theme among many households was to take care of small pet projects — from redesigning a kitchen, to building porches or cleaning out a basement.
While many industries like retail, bars and restaurants slowed or closed entirely, the jobs of tradesman either stayed the same — or got busier.
“It’s been good to the whole industry — plumbers, heating, electricians. Actually, very good the last 4-5 years,” said Thor Thompson, owner of Bruni-Miller Construction in Monroe. “It was even busier in 2020. Everything from doors, home offices, kitchens and bathrooms. In my opinion, it was like people said ‘let’s just do it, because we can’t take that trip to Hawaii.’”
Shelly Hull with Hull Hardwood Flooring in Brodhead said that business has been “about the same” and has stayed steady compared to recent years. The same could be said for Buehler Interiors in downtown Monroe, which saw an uptick in flooring this past year.
It was even busier in 2020. Everything from doors, home offices, kitchens and bathrooms. In my opinion, it was like people said ‘let’s just do it, because we can’t take that trip to Hawaii.’Thor Thompson, Bruni-Miller Construction, Inc. owner
If there has been a negative in the industry, it’s getting the product into the shop and into the customer’s homes, and that to no fault of the local businesses. Outside of keeping their own lumber yards, getting products in like tabletops and windows has become a slower process — partly because of demand, but also patchwork regulations surrounding COVID-19.
A factory in Wausau may be running full time “because up there, it’s like COVID doesn’t exist,” Thompson said. However, another factory with a different product in central Illinois could have one person test positive and the entire line gets shut down for a month. Before COVID-19 hit, getting an item in from the manufacturer could take 7-10 days. Changes in wait times started being seen about six months later in September. Today, those same products could take 7-10 to arrive.
“The biggest thing that people should have is patience — (the project) not going to happen right away,” Thompson said.
Terri and Ed Anderson of Monroe had long been planning to build a new front porch, and they decided in the summer of 2020 that the timing was right. However, getting materials in on time turned out to be difficult, and in one weekend with nice weather in late October, their son-in-law and grandsons tore down the old, poured concrete and built a new, handicap accessible porch.
“He felt he’d have time to do it before the business got too busy. As it turned out, he got busy sooner and also, because of COVID, many of the materials he ordered were delayed quite a few weeks,” Terri said.
Near Monticello, Melody Carlino and her husband decided this was the year to remodel the kitchen, which had been unchanged since the 1950s. The family demoed the kitchen after Thanksgiving, expecting the project to get started as the calendar rolled into December, but materials came in late and all but the final puzzle piece was completed in early February.
“We went a lot of weeks without any cabinets. We were using camper tables in the kitchen, but you can only do that for so long,” Carlino said. “We ordered the cabinets in September, but the construction crew couldn’t get her to start working until December. They were backed up and busy.”
The Carlinos bought their farmhouse in 1996, but the kitchen cabinetry and flooring was installed in the 1950s. “No amount of cleaning that we could do could bring it back to life to look how it did in it’s heyday,” Melody said.
The family hired Buehler Interiors and Tom Wedig to help with the project and were very pleased with the results. New wood cabinets, splash guard, and built-in dishwasher and microwave have brought some fresh life to the kitchen, which Melody called “the center of the home.” The only item left to install is a new gas range stove, which is being held off until the spring when the weather warms up and the gas lines can be messed with.
We enjoyed all of the different staff that have come in. All of them have been very professional and cognizant of COVID concerns.Mel Carlino, Monticello
“Renovating a kitchen is just a huge project,” Melody said, adding that the new look is “a room to be proud of.”
“We enjoyed all of the different staff that have come in. All of them have been very professional and cognizant of COVID concerns,” Carlino said.
Thompson said his staff has also been extra cautious during the pandemic and pay close attention to health guidelines like wearing masks and social distancing when possible. He also said that many people watch HGTV shows and think it could be a cost-saving measure to do the work on their own. But HGTV is still a channel with programs using quick cuts for entertainment purposes.
“HGTV shows are bad, but people love them. They are wearing high heels knocking down walls or seeing something in the wall and making a big deal out of it when it’s just like, ‘remove it’,” Thompson said.
The Andersons have some background knowledge, but as retired teachers let their son-in-law, Tom Schuh, and his children do much of the physical labor. Tom has extensive knowledge of construction, owning his own business, the Schuh Shop here in Green County, and has access to equipment. In just a couple of days the porch and walkout sidewalk were torn up and hauled away, as was a tall pine that had been brought down. After laying a concrete foundation underneath, supports were installed, and, finally, the boards for the wheelchair accessible ramp and porch. They also completed the landscaping around the area with new mulch and plants.
“Our old deck was sinking and wasn’t looking very good. Our son-in-law has his own business and told us what he could do for us. Looking toward the future, he felt it would be wise to have a ramp, in case we had mobility issues,” Terri said. The next project will be to put in a fabric awning above the porch. “Ed likes the sun, but I like the shade.”
Using their own family not only helped cut costs, but was used as a way to bring the family together after several months separated with stay-at-home orders. Terri and Ed set out lawn chairs, as did their daughter, Carrie, Tom’s wife, and conversed while “the boys” worked.
“It was great. We enjoyed the chatter and watching the progress of the deck. I enjoyed cooking to keep them well fed,” Terri chuckled.
Thompson’s crew never really slowed down except for when materials became scarce beginning in September.
Thompson has a five-man crew, each with over 10 years of experience in carpentry. Bruni-Miller’s garage installation even earned the company the Gold Level Distributor Award for Exceptional Sales and Customer Service Award from C.H.I. Overhead Doors, but the team couldn’t travel to Naples, Florida to get the award.
Our old deck was sinking and wasn’t looking very good. Our son-in-law has his own business and told us what he could do for us. Looking toward the future, he felt it would be wise to have a ramp, in case we had mobility issues.Terri Anderson, Monroe
“This is the best crew we’ve ever had. We have good, talented workers. They are truly craftsmen. We’re very proud of them,” Thompson said. Projects near the square are some of the ones Thompson likes working on best, because the crew’s job is to keep the historic look.
Repeat customers are the main source of work for Hull, Buehler and Bruni-Miller. Thompson said for him, the combination of a good workforce and the nearly century-long reputation of the company has paid dividends.
“Back in 1935, Bruni-Miller built that reputation for us. We’ve owned it for 23 years, but it’s like they (Bruni-Miller) have been here in Monroe forever,” Thompson said.
Konnie Thompson, Thor’s wife and co-owner, said that one of the roles Bruni-Miller has taken on is an unofficial education role for home projects.
“A lot of times people call us for things like referrals,” Konnie said, adding that their customers trust their guidance.
As tax season gets underway and another round of stimulus checks from the federal government get distributed, the industry expects to stay busy.
“2021 appears to be just as busy,” Thor said, looking at his scheduling board by his desk.