PressEnter closes after more than 20 years
In 1995, Deena Reisman didn't take her husband Steve's plans to start an internet business very seriously. Quickly though, she realized the River Falls business named PressEnter was a legitimate venture and she joined on to handle finances.
"I didn't know what to think of it initially," Reisman said. "When it started to pick up a little bit more, I turned to [Steve] and said 'Wait, you're going to need me to work for you.'"
But in March of this year, Steve died and left a tech-expertise void in the business. Their son, a programmer for Epic Systems in Madison, was a stopgap solution and handled some of the technical work, but it wasn't sustainable. After a potential new owner's interested fizzled, Deena decided to shut down the 23-year-old business on Oct. 31.
"Without [Steve] it is very hard for us to carry on," Reisman said.
PressEnter was likely one of the first to offer internet service in River Falls, and early on the business' founders, Steve Reisman and David Bushard, had to pitch their services to chamber of commerce members, she said.
Both Steve and Bushard were "computer freaks," said Joe Conrad, a friend of Bushard's who would help with filling mailers early on. He said that Bushard had run previous businesses and operated an internet "bulletin board," an old online way of sharing messages digitally.
After a year in, the business was growing and customers wanted a place to discuss their services, so they bought a building to operate out of, Deena said.
A full-page ad in a regional telephone book helped drive growth in the first few years, said Conrad, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls.
"David was real proud of it, and it worked," Conrad said. "They grew like crazy at the start."
Steve's and Bushard's partnership faltered by 1999 though, and resulted in a lengthy legal battle between the two. Bushard exited the company, and Steve continued to run it.
In 2003, Deena said the business peaked with about 13,000 customers, and by 2006 the company had announced a nationwide service expansion.
To keep up with demand, the business had teams of four to five troubleshooting technicians for day and night shifts to answer customer questions, said longtime employee Gary Fiddler, who handled accounts.
Often customers would ask for specific technicians they were used to working with, he said.
"It was constantly busy," Fiddler, who's been with the company for about 20 years, said. "You started to recognize people who call."
However, as the internet became more popular and drew growth, competitors came along with it.
When the business sent out letters on Oct. 5 to all of its customers notifying them of its closure, it only sent out 800, Reisman said.
"We've shrunk considerably with the competition ... It's been a bit tougher," Deena said.
She's keeping Fiddler and the other remaining employee around to help pack the business up and clean up the building, which she hopes to have done by the end of November.
She plans to sell the building, and most of the technology and other company belongings will either be sold or recycled, she said.
The Rochester-native is 65 and said she plans on retiring once things with PressEnter are officially over. She wants to travel and start volunteering in her new spare time, she said.
However, Deena knows the retired lifestyle will be an adjustment without handling an internet business.
"There's going to be times when I get up in the morning, and be [wondering] 'what am I going to do today?" she said.