The Decorah Hatchery was originally exactly what you would think: A building where baby chicks were hatched. It has been at this location since 1928, hatching chicks every year through 2009, when the third generation owners decided to retire.
Decorah Hatchery was a typical facility for the times, consisting of three Petersime redwood incubators each holding 20,000 eggs, from which each week 14,000 baby chicks were hatched.
Early in the morning twice weekly, the fresh chicks were taken from the hatching trays, counted by hand and put into cardboard boxes, 100 to a box. Soon after, local farmers would pick up most of the chicks, though some would be taken to the post office and mailed to farms in Iowa or neighboring states.
A business like this was bustling and labor intensive; constant cleaning, sanitizing, dusting, all the while the phone ringing, tons of feed and supplies coming and going along with thousands of peeping chicks in the background.
In the heyday of American agriculture, as opposed to today’s agribusiness, the Midwest was rife with 80, 160, or 320-acre farms. Diversified farms, wherein there would be milking, pigs, some beef cows, and chickens. Since there were many farms there were many hatcheries. Virtually all towns had one or more hatcheries—Decorah had four. But conditions changed and where there were hundreds of hatcheries in Iowa there are about 20 today.
When it was clear that the best days of the hatchery business were over the owners decided to develop another business. Fortunately another local business, which sold and rented cross country skis, was for sale. This was purchased and moved to the hatchery building. It came to be that skiers needed warm hats, gloves and socks and more and more items of clothing and accessories were added to the stores shelves.