20 Years Of Covering the Region’s Business

By Ross Boissoneau

A lot can happen in 20 years. Trends come and go, businesses start and fail, technology changes – well, everything.

It was 20 years ago this month that the Traverse City Business News debuted (as the TK), promising in-depth stories about the local business community. Here we take a look back at some of the news from those first issues, and how things have indeed changed over those two decades.

Prominent in that first issue was a story on the planned expansion of Folgarelli’s Market & Wine Shop to Petoskey. It would be an offshoot of the original, like the Folgarelli’s market in Frankfort.

Then, just a couple of issues later, it was reported that the proposed store was being put on hold.

It never did open. According to Donna Folgarelli, who opened Folgarelli’s on Front Street in Traverse City in 1978 with her parents Fox and Marge, it just didn’t make economic sense to go through with the planned expansion up north. Economics also eventually forced the closure of the store in Frankfort. Folgarelli said business in the Benzie County town on Lake Michigan was simply too seasonal, with “really only 60 days” in which to make or break the year.

Today she still owns the deli with her son Darric Newman.

“He’s now in command,” Folgarelli said. “He’s worked here since he was 13. Now my 14-year-old grandson Logan works part-time.”

The store’s longevity has enabled her to also see the offspring of original patrons become regulars as well.

“One of the most fun experiences as owners is when children of customers bring in their own children,” said Folgarelli. “They remember us.”

In the past two decades, Folgarelli’s flagship store underwent some changes of its own, opening the back half for more products, changing that part of the store to a sandwich shop and stocking more wine. The wine even gained its own shop next door for a while, before eventually moving into the back half, the sandwich prep area returning to the front deli case.

The most dramatic change came when Folgarelli’s was sold in 2006. Folgarelli and Newman eventually regained control of the business, and Newman said he believes it has regained its footing.

“We’ve gotten back to a pre-eminent position. We’re growing again,” said Newman.

Folgarelli said one of the biggest changes in her business in the last 20 years is how much more knowledgeable her customers are.

“In the beginning we were so uneducated about European flavors,” she said. “Now the diversity of products and changing of palates – even young kids come in asking for prosciutto,” she said with a laugh.

An article in the [name TK] second issue in September 1994 focused on bike shop Brick Wheels moving from its storefront on 14th Street to a new location at 736 East Eighth Street.

Not only was the store moving, owner Tim Brick was also establishing a new store selling snowboards and related equipment. B Xtreme would operate out of the back half of the new storefront. In the early 1990s, snowboarding was still a “cottage industry” in its first decade of existence, according to the story.

Owner Tim Brick smiled at the memory, particularly how snowboarding was looked down upon by the skiing establishment.

“Snowboards weren’t allowed on the ski hills,” he said, nor were snowboards or related equipment or clothing available at ski shops. So B Xtreme had a niche market all to itself – for a while. “The ski people liked Burton gloves better,” he said. “They were way cool. There was no reason to keep things segregated.”

Soon enough the ski hills and shops caught on to the wave. Brick said he knew they’d lost their monopoly “when Burton clothing started showing up at TJ Maxx and Amazon.”

These days there are a few remnants of that side of the business in the form of paddleboards and some ancillary equipment, such as sunglasses. But for the most part, it’s all about bikes. This year, Brick Wheels celebrates 20 years on Eighth Street and its 40th year in business.

Other news from those early days

– The paper once had a listing of local stocks, including such businesses as Amoco, Ameritech, Dayton Hudson, Wolohan Lumber, Empire National Bank, and First of America. All of which are now part of the past.

– Speaking of banks and financial and lending institutions, listed in the Business News of 1994 besides Empire National Bank and First of America were such now-distant memories as NBD Bank NA, Northwest Savings Bank & Trust, Old Kent, Republic, and West Michigan National Bank.

– Spencer Creek Landing of Alden was promoting its new flavored butters. The butters are long gone, as is the much-loved restaurant. Recognized as one of the region’s best high-end eateries, it closed its doors in 1999.

– The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians received an offer on the vacant Firestone Building at the corner of East Front and Park. The building was eventually torn down and was a fenced-off vacant lot for years. Today it’s the home of the law firm of Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, the Grand Traverse Pie Company and Wet Mitten Surf Shop.

– Traverse Brewing Company south of Elk Rapids had become the area’s first craft brewing establishment. Not only was it the first microbrewery in northern Michigan, it was only the fourth in the state. Though now closed, it spearheaded the craft beer movement, and former employees Joe Short (Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire), Russell Springsteen (Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City) and John Niedermaier (Brewery Terra Firma in Traverse City) have continued the trend.

A “growing internet community”

The ads back in the 1990s also reflect days long gone. One is for Byte Productions, the design and production firm of brothers Tom and Tim Barrons. The ad said the company was looking at ways to serve “Travere City’s growing internet community.” The graphic showed a floppy disc (remember those?).

Byte is now recognized as one of the area’s top web developers, but at the time the brothers Barrons were just dabbling in the online world. “When we started, we were doing things with interactive media like CD-ROMs,” said Tim Barrons. “Print media was still strong.”

As the internet became more commonplace, Byte changed as well. “Businesses became more aware,” added Barrons. “They needed a web page.” Eventually, that page became an actual website. Today Byte does custom websites as well as provide the tools for people to build their own.

Tim and Tom also were credited as part of the art and design team for those early issues of the Traverse City Business News. “I think we did some of original page layout design,” said Barrons.

It’s difficult to envision what lies ahead for the next 20 in the local business and economic scene. Changing tastes, changing technology and unforeseen developments in our world and region will certainly lead to new developments. Here at the Business News, we plan to be there to cover it.