Little businesses that could (and still are), by Becky Korpi

This is the first in a series of articles about small businesses who have thrived in local communities throughout the years.
In the past fifty years, the city of Marquette has seen businesses come and go. What used to be the Steer & Stein Steak House on US-41 is now a sit-down Mexican restaurant named Los 3 Amigos, and the popular but short-lived Pancake House across from Frei Chevrolet still is missed after closing last year.
But there also are businesses that have stood the test of time after fifty years and continue to offer stability to Marquette’s blossoming city life.
Getz Department Store, located on Front Street, has been providing local families with name-brand clothing since 1886. Founder Louis Getz had immigrated to the United States about twenty years prior and first opened his store in Michigamme. A fire caused him to relocate the store to Marquette, said Rock Getz, Louis’ grandson and current co-owner of the store.
Although the store has maintained its current location since 1900, the business is constantly changing to fit the needs of the community, Getz said.
“It’s been wonderful offering quality clothes to people in the area over the years; we do our best to bring the best mix to the area, and that mix is always changing,” Getz said. “A real good example is our greatly expanded women’s shoe department—we now have more comfort and outdoorsy brands. That’s met with a lot of positive feedback.”
Getz said while change is good for a city, it’s also important to have businesses with longevity.
“They keep people employed and are important for our local tax base,” he said. “One of the neatest things happening right now is the resurgence of the Downtown area; it has become more of a walking place where there are so many people on the streets, and it’s really nice to be a part of that.”
Involved with the store since age twelve, Getz said its continued success comes from getting to know the customers on a personal basis.
“We are on the selling floors as much as possible, ordering the merchandise, pricing it and doing all the marketing,” Getz said. “But it’s nice to be on the floor to know what your customers are asking, and I sometimes ask for their feedback.”
Denise Bouschor, owner of Northern Stationers on Washington Street, agrees.
“The people who come from out of the area who have been in a major city come in and say, ‘you’re so helpful,’ because our people will take the time to research and help,” she said. “That’s what’s missing (from big businesses).”
Northern Stationers has been operating for almost seventy years and was first located in the Savings Bank building.
The store specializes in selling office equipment, including multi-functional copiers, furniture and other supplies.
Bouschor’s husband Bob, now semi-retired, was instrumental in expanding into the office equipment and furniture area.
Bouschor said she bought the business in 1991 to contribute to the community and create a future for her children.
“I liked the idea of being a local hometown business; I’m from Marquette and wanted my children to be able to stay in Marquette, so I wanted to build a future for them with this store,” she said.
Bouschor’s son, Chris Stanley, thirty-three, is the general manager of the store. Her daughter, Rebecca Ward, forty-three, manages the service department. She also has a twenty-six-year-old grandson who does deliveries for the store.
“There are three generations of us here, and we want it to go forward and help the community go forward,” she said.
Marquette Wallpaper and Paint on South Third Street also operates as a family business. Brothers Darryl and Mark Hamari purchased it five years ago from its previous owner, but Darryl has worked for the store for more than thirty years. Founded in 1946, Marquette Wallpaper and Paint originally was located next door to where they are now, currently the pool room of Remie’s bar.
“I worked here back in the ’70s in high school, then left the area,” Mark said. “When I came back ten years ago, we bought it because we both enjoy what we do and we like working. The previous owner (Cliff Frenn) was retiring, and we wanted to see the business keep going.”
Marquette Wallpaper and Paint offers window treatment, picture framing and key cutting services as well as passport photos. It carries a complete line of Benjamin Moore paint and Sikkens wood finishes, according to www.Marquettepaint.com
Mark said it’s important for small businesses to stick together.
“The more family-owned stores the better; it fosters a sense of community, and we all need to support one another,” he said.
Twenty years before the birth of Marquette Wallpaper and Paint, Second Street Sauna opened its doors in 1926. It is currently the oldest public sauna in operation in the Upper Peninsula, according to owner Bruce Carlson.
“I’m the fifth owner, and I’ve been here the longest,” he said.
Carlson purchased the sauna in 1987, with only a modest business idea in mind.
“I was going to do just a small place for whirlpool and massage, then a friend said there was a sauna place on Division Street for sale at the time and I looked at that, but the foundation was bad,” he said. “The one at Second Street was a little bigger than I wanted, but I talked to the people and made them an offer. The bank said I could get it for $5,000 less, so I went with it.”
Carlson said the sauna was in need of repair when he bought it, but it wasn’t until recently that he was able to remodel it.
“It’s new right down to the foundation and walls,” he said. “New cedar, new benches and ceilings; it’s really cool now.”
Carlson has been a massage therapist since 1968, which helps bring in revenue during the slow summer months.
“I get busy during the winter because people who have saunas at their camps either don’t want to risk the drive or the roads are closed,” he said.
Holiday Travel Vacations on Third Street also served as a first for Marquette—its first travel agency. Bankers Don Pearce and Homer Hilton created the business fifty-one years ago after trying to plan a trip to Europe and not being able to find an agency closer than Green Bay who could help them, said Anita Johns, travel consultant and co-owner.
Although she enjoys the constancy that Holiday Travel has been able to provide to the area, Johns said it’s the ever-changing nature of the industry that has kept her involved since 1971.
“It has been an amazing industry to be in because it’s so interesting and has a lot of technology involved with it,” she said. “You get to work with people who are usually very excited because they are going on vacation.
“There are situations where there are emergencies and family illnesses, of course, but for the most part this has been very good for us.”
The future of Holiday Travel, Johns said, will have a lot to do with the travel preferences of the local Baby Boomers.
“They are going to want to venture into exotic places; places they have read about, like Asia and the Middle Eastern countries. That, along with individuals who like to go to their common resorts I think is going to make it busier and more interesting here,” she said. “I think we are going to be here for a long time. People want to travel; they want someone they can rely on, and they can’t get that from the Internet.”
Getz, Bouschor, Hamari and Carlson all share similar optimism for the futures of their businesses.
“In the case of the big businesses, the people who work there like their jobs and do a good job, but it’s not their future,” Bouschor said. “Small, hometown businesses provide a future for the people who are involved. They will do everything they can and go that extra mile.”
—Becky Korpi

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