LA CROSSE, Wis. - It's been more than a year and a half since a tornado ripped through La Crosse uprooting trees, tearing off roofs and knocking out power to thousands.
While much of the damage has been repaired, a staple in the La Crosse community chose to start a new chapter in the company's history after the storm.
Bakalars Sausage Company in La Crosse said it made much more sense to just build a brand-new building than to make repairs to the old one.
Construction on its new facility is about halfway done.
While employees say it's an exciting time for the company, it's still hard to leave a place they've called home for so long.
As a third-generation family business, the building on South Avenue in La Crosse has a special meaning to the Bakalars Sausage Company's president, Mike Bakalars.
"I started in 1990, so I've only known this building," said Bakalars. "So it's a lot like home to me."17687328
But in May of last year, a tornado tore the roof from the company's building and caused severe structural damage, a devastating blow to the employees, including Bakalars's general manager, Pete Clements who has worked in just about every aspect of the company in his more than 40 years with the business.
"It was actually a heart-shattering blow," said Clements. "I actually cried in the parking lot. A lot of emotions, I've been here a long time."
Bakalars was faced with a tough decision: shut down the business for six months to make repairs, or start anew.
"The cost of repairs versus the cost of building a new, it just made a lot more sense to move than to try and repair this facility as a food manufacturing plant," said Bakalars.
Plans and details were drafted and construction on a new building started in La Crosse's Industrial Park last September.
The biggest change will be the production layout -- going from operating out of the current two-story building to a more spacious one-floor facility.
Bakalars said that will help increase production and efficiency.
"We'll be ready to meet the challenges that come at us so it's an exciting time for us," said Bakalars. "It really is."
With just a few months until the big move, getting ready to say goodbye to the building the company has called home since the 1960s is growing closer.
"Without a doubt," said Bakalars. "Bearing down on us like a freight train."
But they know the move is just a small step for big things to come in the company's future.
"We've made the best of a bad situation and our company is going to come out a lot stronger in the end, and we'll be a better company moving forward," said Bakalars.
The company is currently able to produce about 50,000 pounds of sausage products a week.
Bakalars said the new facility has potential to increase production and efficient to produce three times as much.
If everything goes as planned, the company should be moving into its new facility by mid-April.
They figure production will probably slow down for about 10 days during the move, but customers shouldn't be affected.
The current building is up for sale.
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