For Whom the Belfry Tolls

former church housing gift shop to be demolished

Nathan Hopp, photos by Tom Giffey

AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE. This former church on the corner of North Farwell and East Madison streets in downtown Eau Claire, which houses the Belfry House of Gifts, will soon be demolished.
AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE. This former church on the corner of North Farwell and East Madison streets in downtown Eau Claire, which houses the Belfry House of Gifts, will soon be demolished.

At the busy intersection of North Farwell and East Madison streets in downtown Eau Claire stands a lonely former church that will soon be demolished. This is the shared location of the Belfry House of Gifts and Indianhead Electronic Supply, 321 N. Farwell St., the latter an electronics shop operating from the building’s basement. The structure dates back to 1927, and it was used as a church until 1971 before transforming into a gift shop in 1974.

“They’re heartbroken. They’re extremely sad, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” – Judy Erickson, owner of the Belfry House of Gifts and Indianhead  Electronics Supply, on customers’ reaction to the building’s fate

Inside the House of Gifts, people can buy exotic items from almost every country across five continents. Seashell sculptures, Mexican pots, Amish decorations, Polish dolls, Indian vases, and carved knick-knacks all the way from Kenya are just a few of the items found along the old church’s aging nave. At one point, armor belonging to medieval knights was sold at this establishment.

Sometime in October, however, the building will be demolished to make way for an expanded parking lot connected to Superior Auto Body, which is next door at 301 N. Farwell St. The decision comes from a mixture of blight accumulating within the structure, as well as an overall expansion of business. This has upset some residents who frequent to the House of Gifts as well as Indianhead Electronics.

“So many people were taking pictures here, because people have been wedded here and baptized here,” said Judy Erickson, who owns both shops (but not the building). “They’re heartbroken. They’re extremely sad, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Some have gone so far as send angry emails to the owner of Superior Auto Body, who acquired the former church five years ago from another landlord, who also recognized the building’s decay. However, the owners say they do not share any animosity towards each other, with the landlord even actively helping Judy find a new place to set up shop. Many local businesses have also purchased the Belfry’s stock before it all runs out.

The demolition date is currently unknown, though Judy has mentioned her desire to move out before Oct. 10. Until then, the Belfry House of Gifts and Indianhead Electronics will continue to provide services to anyone either looking to fix a laptop or find a novelty from across the world.

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