SINCE 1929

Iconic Escanaba store, named for dauntless founder, retains vintage qualities

The Gust Asp party and convenience store in Escanaba has kept its historic look and feel inside and out.

Story and photo by Ann Dallman
It’s a great thing for a business to claim a history dating back to 1929, which is what the Gust Asp Party Store (616 Ludington St., Escanaba) can do. The store has been a favorite destination for generations of Escanaba residents. Rebecca and Donald Moody are the current owners of this landmark business.
“We bought the business in 1982, and we’re only the third owners. After the Asps, Dave Mikowicz was the owner,” Becky said.
Stepping into the store is like stepping into a piece of history. When asked for details Becky replied, “All I know is what was told to me by the previous owner, Kate Asp, who was Gust’s wife.” Becky then pointed out Gust’s portrait hung high on a wall, from where he now smiles down at shoppers.
“Gust was a wheeler dealer and was active in local politics. According to legend, he was incarcerated for bootlegging, and that’s the reason the liquor license was in Kate’s name. One time a customer needed a lawnmower belt, and Gust took the belt off his own lawnmower to sell to him! His philosophy was that if he didn’t have it, you didn’t need it. It’s amazing what we found in the basement here,” Becky explained.
“He must have been quite the guy. Kate told me that he’d sit in the window in his rocking chair,” she added.
“Kate would come in every day to get a paper and tell me stories about the store. She told me it had started out [as] a silent movie theater, and then it was a beauty shop, then became a brothel, then an office for the Sawyer-Stoll Logging Co., and then Gust Asp. The former walk-in safe that held the money for the logging payroll is now our walk-in cooler,” Becky said.
Wander around, and you’ll notice the deli case at the front of the store offering meats, salads, sandwiches and desserts, including pies, cakes, cookies and bars. Meat is cut daily by a butcher, who also cuts and prepares all the meat for Hereford & Hops, the restaurant and brewpub adjoining Gust Asp.
“Our beef is never frozen. We grind fresh each day. Ground beef is made out of the steak cuttings,” Becky said. “When we put in the restaurant, the deli room became our meat cutting room. Salads, sandwiches and desserts are prepared fresh each day next door in Hereford & Hops.”
Stocked against the store’s back wall are wine- and beer-making supplies.
“For those who brew their own beer, our brewer here is available [to] help,” Becky said. “We’re a party store so we have adult beverages, but we’re much more than a party store.”
Convenience items include wine, beer, liquor and a good tobacco selection (including cigars), lottery tickets and DNR licenses. There are sunglasses, greeting cards, candy, gum, chips, soda, canned goods, pickles and fresh fruit, cereal, condiments, boxed mixes, canned soup, coffee and even a selection of the hard-to-find Jones Soda.
“We’re a convenience store catering to a very small local market, male and female, all ages, to people in the immediate area. A lot of people live between Gust Asp and the lake, and a lot of those people don’t have cars. They can’t get to Walmart, so we stock a variety of things,” Becky said.
The store’s offerings have changed over the years.
“At one time, a great portion of our business was magazines and newspapers from Milwaukee, Chicago, New York and even Houghton, Michigan. But the internet made that obsolete; there’s no market for that anymore. After a year of being in the store, we put in a deli. There’s a lot of state and county businessmen [working] in this area, and we did a huge business with the deli,” Becky said.
Becky and Don Moody bought the store in 1982 after relocating from Lake Orion, Michigan, which is about 30 miles from Detroit.
“My husband was the plant manager of a Pepsi Cola bottling facility. We lived in a nice suburb, but suburbia and the corporate life wasn’t the life we wanted. We contacted a realtor in northern Michigan and said we wanted a small business but not a restaurant or motel (famous last words). We looked at several in the northern Lower Peninsula and then at Gust Asp. This was the last one we saw, and my husband fell in love with it,” Becky said. That was in 1982.
In 1992, the couple, who now reside in Rock, purchased the former Delta Hotel, which was at the time used as the Bishop Noa Nursing Home. In 1994, they opened Hereford & Hops Steak House and Brewpub in the building’s first floor, and the following year, they started renting out the building’s 32 apartments above the restaurant.
“In 2015 we combined the two businesses, Hereford & Hops and Gust Asp, into one and bought out our partner,” Becky said. The couple’s son, Bret, works with them at Hereford & Hops.
An iconic green and gold sign hangs at the store’s front on Ludington Avenue.
“The sign is original. We’ve taken it down two times and had it rewired and repainted. The cases behind the cash register are the original cases. If you look closely at the front door, you can see that the door was once double front doors. The store needs a facelift outside, and the inside is dated. It’s needed, and it will get done,” Becky said. The Gust Asp store holds memories for Becky and Don, for their half-dozen employees and for their customers. Nostalgia continues to bring in new generations of customers.
“Customers who came in here when they were four years old are now bringing their kids in. We’ve got second and third generation[s] of customers coming in,” Becky said.
Some of those customers have posted their memories related to the store on its Facebook page, which shares the store’s name.
The Gust Asp Party Store is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST.

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