Island bar outlasts lapping ocean

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May 20, 2012
— Andrew Sigwell bought a Janesville institution in 2005.

It's encased by an auto assembly plant and the vehicles driven by its thousands of workers.

While the General Motors plant and its parking lots have long emptied, Sigwell's bar is still open for business.

It's no longer the sardine can packed with autoworkers at lunches or shift changes.

In fact, it's no longer named Zachow's.

Instead, Zoxx 411 Club is more of a neighborhood bar, one that attracts people of all ages who come for dart leagues, live music or just to hang out with friends.

"It's a much different place, now," Sigwell said. "It used to be tied very directly to something very specific: General Motors.

"There are no more assigned GM seats, here."

Sigwell bought the bar at 411 W. State St. from his stepfather, Jim Zachow, who bought it in 1989 from his parents, Roy and Geri Zachow.

Roy and Geri bought the former Tom Sawyer Cottage Grill in 1961 while Roy was working at the plant.

"At the time, we had a new house and a new van, and I was raising five kids," Geri Zachow said. "I didn't want the bar."

But Roy had a lot of friends at the plant who started frequenting Zachow's, she said.

The bar upped its weekly beer order from 10 cases to 100, remodeled its kitchen and started pumping out burgers and fries.

Zachow's growing popularity with GM workers caught the attention of the company brass, which wasn't thrilled with a bustling bar just steps from the plant's front door.

As Geri tells it, GM wined and dined the Zachows at the old Holiday Inn in an effort to get the couple to sell.

"They offered us $96,000, but we were doing much better than that," she said. "We were making good money right from the start."

Geri said she asked GM to move the bar across Jackson Street to an old lumberyard, but "they didn't want us anywhere in the neighborhood."

Shortly thereafter, GM fired Roy.

Geri suspects it had more to do with his unwillingness to sell the bar than it did with missing work for deer hunting, the "official" reason cited for his departure.

GM flew Roy to Detroit in 1987 and offered him $200,000 for the property, Geri said.

"They paid for his trip over there, but he told them he wouldn't take less than $500,000," she said. "I think he probably would have taken $350,000.

"He came back, saying, 'Those bastards will never get the bar.'"

GM tried hard to keep its workers out of Zachow's. Fences blossomed, but they didn't deter workers, some of whom would back up vehicles so they could more easily jump the barriers.

"Some of them broke their legs going over that fence," she said. "They only had a half hour to eat, and they couldn't walk clear around the block to get here.

"They came everyday to eat, not get drunk. You could hear 'em coming like a herd of buffalo on the plains."

The GM workers—much like the buffalo on the plains—moved on when GM closed the plant.

"I could see it coming," said Sigwell, who worked consistently in the family business since 2000. "What I tried to do before the buyouts was to make the bar more steady, especially on weekends."

He started sponsoring a dart team in 2006. During the height of the dart season, he now sponsors 14 teams that throw four nights a week in the 900-square-foot bar.

"Some of them are world champions," he said proudly. "We've really become known as a dart bar, but it really only happens during a short window on those nights."

When darts are in the air, Zoxx 411 Club attracts a younger, neighborhood crowd.

Even in the relatively tight confines, live music is a hit on weekends, he said.

"It's a whole new generation here, now—people who grew up in the neighborhood," Sigwell said.

Only a handful of GM regulars still stop in.

"I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but one person started telling another and so on.

"I've been very grateful. We're making a living and not taking a loss."

Sigwell recently purchased another bar just down South Jackson Street.

That one, too, is doing well, he said.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Sigwell said he didn't buy the second bar because GM plans to restart its assembly plant and wants Zoxx 411 Club out of the way.

"There's nothing to it," he said. "Just crazy rumors."

Geri Zachow is proud her family's bar is still thriving, whatever its name.

"He's busy all the time," she said of her grandson. "Of course, he doesn't have the volume we had, but he's making a perfectly good living."

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