Benzie the new retail hot spot? These biz owners are betting on it

BENZIE CO. – Tucked away along Lake Michigan’s high bluffs, deep woods and crystal clear waters, Benzie County is being discovered by business entrepreneurs seeking to meet the needs of its growing population.

From a state-of-the-art spa to an old fashioned soda shop, to art galleries, gourmet food, wine and coffee shops to sweatshirts designed while you wait, the mantra seems to be: “We’re glad you’re here.”

In the port city of Frankfort, two new businesses, The Blue Door Gourmet Food & Wine Shop and Wear It Out, opened this fall next to each other on Main Street.

The Blue Door is housed in a former flower shop and offers a nature-inspired greenhouse for sitting right inside the shop, along with the area’s largest selection of wine, and over 50 different kinds of beer, including a make your own microbrew six pack. They carry specialty cheese, olives, hummus, salsa, dips, oils and vinegars, along with $1.99 grab-and-go daily made sandwiches. Open 10-6, Mon.-Sat., closed Sundays, (231) 352-8050.

Right next door, Anthony Prately has turned one business need into another with his Wear It Out shop. Prately also owns PuckWhacker, 3-on-3 roller hockey tournaments that ordered a lot of custom t-shirts.

“One day we said, why don’t we just buy the equipment and do it ourselves,” explained Pratley, “and the business came out of that.” Wear It Out features stock designs of local schools, points of interests, etc., but can also reproduce any image onto shirts, shorts, sweats, mugs, plaques, puzzles, etc., most within 2-3 days. Custom t-shirts range from $17-25, depending on the complexity of the design, and stock shirts are under $15. Check out the selection at www.shirtyourself.com.

Over the hill and down the road to Beulah and Benzonia finds a flurry of retail, both new buildings and renovations of existing ones.

“We’re especially glad to see development within the village centers, as stated in the county Master Plan,” Benzie Area Chamber of Commerce Director Carol Davidson said. “Our greatest asset in Benzie County is our natural splendor. We need to protect the beauty of the area while we encourage sensible growth and development.”

A long-established Traverse City business, State of the Art framing opened a second location in downtown Beulah this summer, after owner Steve Loveless moved to the Frankfort area and decided he wanted to work closer to home.

“The economic climate in the area is healthy, there are other new retail and service businesses coming in and people are glad to have the same choices they have in Traverse City without the drive,” Loveless said.

Between Beulah and Honor, the new Best Western-Scenic Hill Resort opened this summer, which offers all the amenities of the Best Western chain, including a gallery featuring local photography.

“Rather than using ‘canned art’ throughout the hotel, we chose to focus on local scenes and themes. The gallery showcases local photographers and their work, mostly of scenes from northwest Michigan,” Dave Easter, hotel owner/manager explained.

Also at the hotel is the newly-opened Eden Salon & Day Spa. The new state-of-the-art relaxation facility offers everything from cuts, perms and styling, to facials, manicures and spa pedicures, to deep tissue or hot stone massage treatments and algae or mud wraps. Salon packages and gift certificates are also available. For more information, call (231) 882-9178.

Linda Wood opened a new spacious corner office at the South Street Plaza in Benzonia, which opened in 2004 and quickly filled with a variety of retail stores.

“We were just waiting until a new space was available and are very happy with the increased office space, visibility and parking, and our clients love the convenience of stopping in while they are running other errands,” Wood commented.

As an independent Edward Jones representative, Wood could have chosen just about anywhere to locate her business, but she wanted to stay in the Beulah area. “The community is growing; we are in the central part of the business flow, and I can live five miles away enjoy the country living and small town environment, which I love.”

Just above the new plaza is Victoria’s Landing, another retail development featuring Victoria’s Flowers and Hilltop Soda Shoppe, and Finishing Touch frame shop, which relocated with Victoria’s from downtown Beulah.

“We knew when we opened three years ago that the space was too small, but at the time there was no other retail building available. So we decided to purchase this property and build something new and offer space to more businesses,” owner Vicki Mekas explained.

She hopes to expand into greenhouse plants and cut flower gardens in the acre behind the businesses. One retail space is still available; contact Victoria’s Flowers at (231) 882-5144.

This summer, Vicki and her husband Chris opened Hilltop Soda Shoppe, featuring their own 100% homemade ice cream, and real old-fashioned sodas. Their made-with-fresh-strawberries ice cream flavor was the hit of the summer.

They plan to offer homemade soups and fresh baked bread at lunchtime and to stay open through the winter at reduced hours, Tuesday through Saturday, 11-6.

And there is another retail and office space being planned on U.S. 31, in Beulah. Set to begin construction next spring, Crystal Corners will add 15,000 feet of rental space for businesses looking to open or expand in the area.

Contact Susan at (231) 650-9765 for more information. BN

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