WOMEN IN BUSINESS: A town transformed by women: Alden

Just a few years ago, driving through the little town of Alden wouldn’t get your attention. But today, after a community block grant and the vision of several women, a new village has arrived and is making waves. The village of Alden runs adjacent to famous Torch Lake and has become one of the most unique shopping experiences in northern Michigan. From the “Alden Strolls” on Thursdays, to the Strawberry Festival and many more events throughout the year, you can’t help but want to take it all in.

The majority of businesses in Alden are owned and managed by women. As I spoke with a few of them, it became evident that it takes a commitment to succeed 365 days of the year. All of the women told me that owning their own business was the most difficult thing they’ve ever done, the hardest they’ve ever worked, but produced the greatest rewards of self-satisfaction.

And everyone mentioned Mildred Carter. At age 85, Mildred owns Carters Candles, a gift shop featuring homemade candles, with her husband. Their building–covered in a brilliant red–is the most recognizable one in town. Mildred’s personality and commitment to see Alden grow and prosper exemplifies the obvious camaraderie the shop owner’s share in the village.

Another merchant who helped mold Alden into what it is today is Jo Ann Loranger. Her shop, Handiworks, is a seasonal gallery, selling only American-made, contemporary handcrafts. Jo Ann previously owned a gift shop in Rochester for 11 years before moving north with her husband when he retired from GM Research. Prior to that, she was a teacher at Kimball High School in Royal Oak. She’s also a very proud mother of two children, Carrie and Matt.

“I love my customers, and I love owning this beautiful shop,” Loranger commented.

Marty Beals, owner of 45th Parallel, a women’s clothing and accessories shop, started her own business as an alternative to commuting from Traverse City at her job as a travel agent.

“I really got tired of the drive and wanted to find something closer to home,” she said. “My Dad owned several businesses and has taught me a great deal about the challenges and opportunities. It must have sunk in because all four of us kids now own our own business.” The shop has done so well that Marty had to seek alternative space to expand a few years ago, and is now housed in a very attractive building on main street.

“You have to be willing and able to be an active working manager, to do everything yourself from top to bottom and be committed to it the entire year. It’s hard work, but rewarding.”

Another retailer, LaVoie Fashions, has grown from one that carried painted designs on T-shirts, to its current offering of over 30 lines of clothing.

Donna LaVoie’s hand-painted designs can be found on many articles throughout the shop. People call from all over the country to have her design a special order, since Donna can paint on any surface. Owning her own business has been extremely rewarding, she said, but “all consuming” and added that one needs to be willing to commit to more than a full-time job to become successful doing this.

Jane Van Etten’s advice for a woman starting her own business is “Do your homework, know your market and do the research!” Jane and her daughter, Melissa, established the Muffin Tin 14 years ago. As a retired business teacher from Gaylord Community School, she lived on her boat in the summer and was looking for something to do to keep her occupied. The Muffin Tin was the result of being in the right place at an opportune time. The shop is extremely popular with the local residents who visit the shop daily.

“Alden has been a community that accepts change and new business and everyone works together to keep the village moving forward,” Van Etten commented. “Your store is only as good as your community.”

Joy McGlovkin couldn’t agree more. She doesn’t feel her Alden Mill House would be as successful as it is today without the attitude and hard work of the people of Alden.

“It takes hard work and everyone working together to make this village chime.”

She and husband, Gene, relocated back to northern Michigan from Texas years ago and found themselves residents of Alden. Gene was a chef and loved to mix and create spices, which is the core product of their shop today. Joy’s background is “common sense” and she’s proud of the shop’s success.

“Our spices are known all over the state and country and we provide secondary items at reasonable prices for other shopping. We are swamped with Christmas shoppers already this year.”

Patty Kolb has lived in northern Michigan for 36 years, initially spending summers on Elk Lake when she and her husband moved up from Ann Arbor.

Eventually they found themselves on Torch Lake and in Alden. Her flair for interior design gave her the incentive to form her own business, a boutique called PK’s which has been a tremendous success.

“One-of-a-kind apparel and decorative home accessories are provided to our customers and they love knowing that their purchase is not mass produced,” she said. Patty had this advice for other budding entrepreneurs: “Be prepared for a lot of hard work and don’t expect to become an overnight success. Allow three to four years and make sure you have the financial means to sustain yourself during this time.”

Another woman deserving kudos in Alden is Patricia Finley. She and her husband used to own the Alden Bed and Breakfast. It was Patricia who was instrumental in acquiring the block grant, which literally changed the face of the village.

She also helped form a merchant group that is solid to this day. Her dedication and spirit led to the formation of a volunteer community group called the Friends of Alden. This group of volunteers is on hand to beautify the grounds, develop signage and events and lend a hand where needed.

These women in business are not alone in their efforts to transform Alden, but it’s certainly apparent that they’ve been instrumental in putting this little community on the map. BN

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