New businesses settle into Elk Rapids

ELK RAPIDS – In the not-so-distant past, once the tourists had packed up their beach bags and the snowbirds had flown the coop, you'd be hard pressed to find a whole lot going on in the bayside berg of Elk Rapids.

Not so anymore, say three proprietors who recently set up shop in the quaint village, despite the promise of summer being a long winter away.

"It's a just a vibrant little town," said Roy Ellison, who opened Home Kitchen with his partner Tonja Bird, in October. "It's definitely on the upswing."

From its River Street location, Home Kitchen provides an ever-changing menu of fully-cooked take-out foods that only require reheating at home. They also offer two hot, ready-to-eat selections each night and a selection of salads, soups, cheeses, breads and desserts-all made from scratch.

Ellison said he and Bird, who have a combined 60 years of restaurant experience, chose Elk Rapids because the town's demographics are "just right for this kind of business," he said. "There are a lot of two-income couples and retired people here." While Ellison said business has been "very good" so far this winter, he and Bird are currently the only staff. He expects to hire more help in the summer.

The winter has also been kind to Martee Hickman, who opened her shop, Nifty Things, a few doors east of Home Kitchen in November, after opening her first store in Alden in May.

"We're officially a chain," she said.

Hickman credits her "very girlfriend friendly" product line, which contains Camila bracelets, Lexee interchangeable shoes, unique wine and martini glasses, high-quality barbeque tools, fun purses, and Danish and German kitchenware, for her typically slow-season success.

"We had a good holiday season. Our product line lent itself well," she said. "We're trying to bring in unique things that you don't see everywhere, she said. "We look for the wow-factor."

Along with her product line, she believes advertising-her husband's background is in advertising and marketing while her background is in business-to-business sales-has contributed to steady business.

"We believe in advertising. We want people to know we're here."

She also gives praise to the community in general and other business owners; Elk Rapids has an active Merchants' Association which organized several community shopping events throughout the holiday season.

"We've been very pleased with Elk Rapids-the community, the Chamber our fellow retailers have all been wonderful," she said.

Angel Walsh, the owner of Angel Eye Photography and The French Bulldog, always knew Elk Rapids would be a great home for her business.

"I've always loved Elk Rapids," she said. "It's such a great little town. I used to take my kids to the beach there all the time."

Walsh found the property on which she is currently building her new studio and retail space (on the stretch of U.S. 31 just south of Elk Rapids, already home to Michigan Lake Products, Wooden Hammer Custom Woodworking, and Traverse Brewing Company) while in the process of relocating from Traverse City to Charlevoix.

"We didn't expect to build so soon, but everything just came together," she said.

While she was originally planning on a February opening, delays have pushed it to May.

Half of the building will be dedicated to studio space for Walsh's currently home-based photography business, which specializes in maternity and infant and pet portraits, as well as weddings. The other half will be retail space housing The French Bulldog, a boutique named in homage to Walsh's three pups. The French Bulldog's product line will include handmade furniture, jewelry and art, along with a gallery wall showcasing select photographers and artists.

"We've tried to incorporate a lot of variety and eclectic items," said Walsh. "It's going to be kind of edgy, kind of old-meets-new. We'd like it to be a social place for women, and they're welcome to bring their dogs." BN