WAUSAU, Wis. — Wisconsin is home to the fifth oldest bookstore in America, according to the Independent Books Review. The store is also the oldest in the state.

People visit Janke Bookstore in Wausau for the books and stay because of the staff.

What You Need To Know

  • Janke Bookstore was established in 1874 and purchased by Carl Janke after his U.S. Army discharge from World War I in 1919

  • Janke Book Store is the oldest bookstore in Wisconsin and the fifth oldest in America

  • Owner Jane Janke coauthored books about Wausau history with her father John Janke

Books have always been a part of Jane Janke’s life. She’s worked at Janke Bookstore for 40 years.

“Well, it was kind of a fallback after college. I didn’t have a job and mom and dad said, ‘just come back for a little bit and help us,’” Jane Janke said.

While working in the bookstore, Jane Janke turned her love for stories into a passion for the past.

“I’m very involved in the Marathon County Historical Society. I’ve been on their board for over 25 years. I’ve also authored a couple of books with my dad about Wausau history and I also do historical reenacting for the community,” Jane Janke said.

Jane Janke’s also a big part of Wausau’s literary history. Her grandfather Carl Janke owned Janke Bookstore. 

“Carl Janke, my grandfather, was born in Wausau, and he returned to Wausau after he was fighting in France in 1919, and when he returned to Wausau, he didn’t have a job,” Jane Janke said.

Carl Janke, along with Reno Kurth, became an owner of the bookstore in 1919, but it was established in 1874 by Richard J. Collie in a building across the street.

Marion Zahrt was hired in 1953. She remembered the first time she met the owner Carl Janke. 

“He asked me was, if I know how to dust and I know why that was because they had a lot of games that were children’s games in the front, and they were all boxed,” Zahrt said.

Besides helping to maintain the store’s impeccable appearance, Zahrt also worked in the cards and office supplies department. After 67 years on the job, Zahrt is as treasured as the bookstore itself.

“I can even walk down the street and go into a grocery store or something they say, ‘oh, I think I know you,’” Zahrt said.

Janke Bookstore offers a wide selection of books and unique gifts. Jane Janke said she’s proud to build upon what her grandfather started more than a century ago.

“We’re not only surviving, we are thriving. People love books, and it’s just a lot of fun here coming to work every day. I think my customers enjoy the experience as well,” Jane Janke said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the U.S. ranking for how old Janke Bookstore is. That error has been corrected. (April 18, 2024)