Ray's Market was originally located on STH 13 in Unity, just south of the CTH P/K intersection. Ray Gurtner started the business on January 7, 1971, after purchasing it from a previous owner. At first there was a grocery store with the business but that was discontinued in the early 80's.
Ray's son, Al, had always been a helper around the store, from stocking shelves to tending the register. On July 7, 2007, Ray passed away and Al quit his construction job to take over. His mother, Janet, came aboard as a full-time shopkeeper.
The business was always a repository of Unity history with a storeroom next door that held several antiques. But perhaps the most important items in the entire business were three pictures showing the Gurtner family through the years.
Janet Gurtner was jolted awake the morning of March 3, 2009, by a smoke alarm going off. She lived in the apartment above the original Ray's Market and thought the television or telephone was making the noise. When she looked out her window and saw much more smoke coming from the meat market than usual, she tried calling 911 only to find the phone lines dead. By the time she called from a neighbor's place people had stopped on STH 13 because of the smoke.
Al, a Colby resident, was told by a Colby-Abbotsford police officer that firefighters were on the way to his store. By the time firefighters from Colby and Spencer arrived the building was ablaze. Most flames were put out within 45 minuets but firefighters had to cut holes in the roof to keep the fire from spreading. It caused damage to Janet's apartment, forcing her out o a job and out of her home.
The fire destroyed four smokehouses and wrecked freezers, coolers and sausage-making equipment. It also left Al with about 25,000 pounds of meat that were stored in a refrigerated truck. Initially he hoped to salvage it but it was later determined that burning Styrofoam and other materials had rendered it inedible. Initially Al had considered rebuilding in Unity and waiting to see how much of the brick building could be salvaged. The fire hadn't claimed it, but unfortunately weakened it too much to be usable. While the flames took their toll, some history remained intact. The trio of family portraits escaped the blaze.
The new building went up quickly with a 38x50 foot retail apace up front and far more parking. The shelves are brimming with Wisconsin products, including and extensive collection of wine, cheese, sweets and more. Al aimed to make sure there were plenty of local products on the shelves ranging from River Bend wine, Holland Family Farm cheese, maple syrup from Abbotsford and plenty more. The building includes four smokehouses and expanded space for spices and other ingredients. Ray's Market also has far more freezing and cooling space to better serve customers.
Ray's opened its doors to the community in November with an open house and ribbon cutting that brought in the crowds. Meanwhile, in the front entrance of the store, pictures are starting to repopulate it. Ray's Market, rather than ending its story with a fire, is beginning a much greater chapter.