Downtown die-hards: Long-time shop owners on what sets TC apart, what changes they’d like to see

Downtown Traverse City is home to more than a dozen businesses that opened their doors more than a quarter of a century ago or longer. They have seen other businesses come and go, either out of downtown or out of business altogether. They have weathered the pressures of surrounding retail development and they have kept their businesses strong. They have forged a relationship with downtown and can't imagine doing business anywhere else.

The Business News asked a few "lifers" about their downtown run. Here's what they had to say. We start with downtown's oldest business, Votruba's.

Kerry Glaesmer

Votruba Leather Goods Co., Vice-president

Why downtown? Our store was opened in 1874 in downtown. There was no space in the malls at that time.

What is the biggest change you've seen downtown in your business' lifetime? We have been in business at the same location for 134 years. Our family has owned the business the last 43 years. The biggest change we have seen is that there are no anchor stores anymore. No Sears, Penney's, Montgomery Ward's or Milliken's-all formerly downtown.

If you could change one thing about doing business downtown, what would it be?

I would like to change peoples' attitudes about issues downtown-parking, hours, etc. Also, that owners are not a bunch of rich merchants taking advantage of the city and taxpayers. A strong downtown means the surrounding neighborhoods are strong and the house values stay stable or increase. Downtown businesses also contribute to the tax base of the city. Imagine if downtown deteriorated and businesses left? What would the effect be on taxes collected on our already strapped city?

You have seen your share of businesses come and go. Tell us about a memorable business owner or a favorite store from long ago. Stacey's Restaurant was probably one of the most memorable. Julie, who owned Stacey's, was one of a kind. She had a heart of gold-feeding many people who couldn't afford a meal. Everyone was expected to ring up their own bill and she trusted everyone.

Bill Golden

Golden Shoes., Vice-president

Why downtown? The Friedrich family started the shoe store in 1883 and and my grandfather and father bought it in 1954. We are downtown because of its uniqueness and because of a lot of the businesses are owner-operator like ours.

What is the biggest change you've seen downtown in your business' lifetime? The biggest change we have seen in downtown are the stores that are no longer downtown. Hamilton's, Kresge's, Woolworth's, Trude Hardware, Penney's and Sears. These were all great downtown stores that have either moved to the malls or are just not in business anymore.

What is unique about downtown Traverse City's business district compared to other cities of similar size? What is missing? What sets us apart from other areas is the organization (Downtown Development Authority and the Downtown Traverse City Association) starting with Bryan Crough. Bryan and his staff do such a great job. When you have more than 75 merchants and all of them have 75 different ideas of how something should be done, they listen to everybody and come up with what would work for the downtown merchants. The people of the five-county area really do believe in shopping locally. They are your neighbors, your friends and will make every effort to shop locally.

Tell us about a memorable business owner or a favorite store from long ago. The place and the woman who ran the most memorable business in downtown was Julie at Stacey's. We-"the good old boys"-used to meet there every morning for coffee.

Jeff Owens

Max's Service, Owner

Why downtown? My grandfather purchased the business in 1950 from MJ Macintosh and it was in this location. It's a great place to have a business and we don't plan on ever moving.

What is the biggest change you've seen downtown in your business' lifetime? We have been in business close to 60 years now with three generations of the same family ownership. The biggest change for us doesn't really have to do with downtown-it's the malls and all the retail businesses on South Airport Road. It has completely changed our area's shopping from how it was before those areas were developed.

If you could change one thing about doing business downtown, what would it be?

I really think it would help if we had more parking downtown. Another parking deck would help out with summer tourists during the Cherry Festival, the farmers' markets, and other events. Our store is unique because we have our own parking lot, but we are one of very few who do.

What is unique about downtown Traverse City's business district compared to other cities of similar size? What is missing? We have lots of great retail stores but we also have great restaurants downtown and many offices. Most cities I have visited have either shops and restaurants or they have just offices and restaurants. We have all three. The one thing I think we could have more of is events like Friday Night Live, Film Festival, Street Sale, etc. Those are great things that bring people downtown for the day to see how great it is.

Tell us about a memorable business owner or a favorite store from long ago. There are a few. I really miss Full Moon/New Moon records. It was the only place to get music for a long time. When I was little my grandmother and mom used to take me to lunch at Milliken's Tea Room. They had great milkshakes and egg salad. I also always had a blast roller-skating when there was a rink downtown.

Maurie Allen

Captain's Quarters, President

Why downtown? When I started my career downtown in 1964 there were no malls, few strip centers and no factory outlet clusters, so the decision to locate downtown was a no-brainer. A lot has transpired in 43 years; more than enough malls, plenty of strip centers, and a factory outlet group that seems to evolve and revolve daily. However, since our business model has always been built upon personal service, community involvement, and providing unique assortments of merchandise not usually found at mass merchandisers, we've found the perfect place for Captain's Quarters to call home.

What is the biggest change you've seen downtown in your business' lifetime?

A pretty much total restructuring of our shopping district…major storefronts on Front Street in 1964 included Montgomery Ward, Woolworth's, Milliken's, Hamilton's, J.C. Penney and Kresge's-not to mention a couple of great hardware stores, Trude's and VanEenenaam's. All major traffic generators. By the time Traverse City caught the "Malling of America" mania in the late '70s, most of these majors were headed for greener pastures, or in our case, buffalo pastures. Unfortunately, many great stores did not survive those challenging times. Today, our downtown is an exciting work in progress comprised of dynamic specialty stores, a revitalized entertainment component, and dining opportunities to die for!

If you could change one thing about doing business downtown, what would it be?

One of the significant challenges facing any commercial district comprised of independent operators of all shapes and sizes is to establish compatible and convenient hours to best service our diverse clientele. Hopefully, as more evening activity is generated by our great restaurants, the recently reopened State Theatre and beautifully restored Opera House, more shops will join Captain's Quarters and extend their hours of operation.

What is unique about downtown Traverse City's business district compared to other cities of similar size? What is missing? Compared with other cities of our size, I believe Traverse City is unique in that the success we are enjoying is the result of serious study, courageous visioning, and substantial investment by downtown property owners and merchants. This thorough research, vision, and investment has resulted in a downtown environment that is the envy of the Midwest. If anything is missing, it's the missed opportunity for those who haven't experienced downtown Traverse City.

Tell us about a memorable business owner or a favorite store from long ago. In Several memorable folks come to mind, but Julie Stathakis of Stacey's Restaurant was always a favorite of mine. Upon entering Stacey's, which was located for many years where Poppycock's is found today, Julie would greet you with the nickname she had assigned-mine was "Slim!" After her good-natured badgering, I marveled at how she single-handedly could serve a full house in record time. She was always too busy to collect for the meal, so the standard operating procedure was for each customer to put the money in the till, make change as needed, and move on! Any wonder why I love downtown?

Pat DeYoung

DeYoung's, Owner

Why downtown? We started here because it was where the action was (as DeYoung's Wallpaper & Paint Store).

What is the biggest change you've seen downtown in your business' lifetime? I have been in the business since 1975 (family-owned for more than 65 years). There were three drugstores downtown…there were more family-owned businesses and Montgomery Ward's and Milliken's were anchor stores. Also, Penney's.

What is unique about downtown Traverse City's business district compared to other cities of similar size? What is missing? An anchor department store and an office supply store are missing. We do have a variety mix downtown and, with the theatre and Opera House open, an evening venue.

Tell us about a memorable business owner or a favorite store from long ago. I always looked forward to going to Bartling's with my mother-in-law in the '70s to buy something special for the holidays.

Beth Guntzviller

Miner's North Jewelers, Owner

Why downtown? When we started in business years ago there was never any question to go anywhere else. We just love small towns and the vitality it has. We loved being near the water and beaches.

What is the biggest change you've seen downtown in your business' lifetime? The anchor stores left. Penney's, Montgomery Ward's, and Milliken's. I remember how scared we were. What is going to happen to downtown? How are we going to survive? The parking deck was built; the Opera House was redone; the zoo was demolished. We saw the closing of the theatre and now we get to see the reopening of the theatre. There are many more restaurants. There is vitality at night.

If you could change one thing about doing business downtown, what would it be? I would love to have our own parking. Even though we have a beautiful parking deck, I would love for my customers to be able to park near us. We do not have a public restroom. I would like to see a younger clientele downtown, too.

What is unique about downtown Traverse City's business district compared to other cities of similar size? What is missing? I travel a lot. Wherever I go, I visit the downtown. What we have is vitality, cleanliness, variety, a safe feeling, good restaurants, a theatre, the Opera House, the Playhouse, a hotel. We need more benches for our visitors to sit on, an affordable children's store, and clothing for young men.

Tell us about a memorable business owner or a favorite store from long ago. I remember many businesses and owners. Joyce and Bruce Rogers at Bartling's. Pete Strom at Hamilton's. Lyle DeYoung at DeYoung's. Bill Martinek at Martinek's. Jackie Bartling at The Lamp Post. Steve and Cathy at Cathy's Tote and Dine. Mark Hamlyn at Big Boy. Ann McHuron, the manager at Milliken's. Dick and Mary Jo from the Matterhorn, a sport shop. These people from years ago helped lay the foundation for those of us here today. We are fortunate to be able to make a living having a retail store in downtown Traverse City. BN

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