But when I walk through Grand Haven, I see thriving locally owned businesses, and I think of my grandpa’s store.
When I was a kid, Grandpa’s department store on Sunday was big and dark and quiet. My mom, Aunt Margie, cousins, brother and I left our dads watching football and Grandpa sleeping on the couch, newspaper spread across his chest, at my grandparents’ house on Sundays in the late afternoon to take advantage of the family discount.
Our mothers expertly sorted through racks of clothes, hangers squeaking against metal bars. Only a few lights in the back were lit — our Sunday shoes clicked and shuffled on the brown and green tiled floor where we played hide-and-seek in the dark between racks of sweaters, Carhart work clothes and dresses.
We listened to our mothers’ voices in the background, filled with comments that come from growing up in a family-run business. “Yes, Mom told me she ordered those. Do you need a size 7?”
They were in their element. It was the store their father would only close on Sundays, and would not even close on a Saturday for my mother’s wedding.
William’s Department Store in Lake Odessa was a fixture on the main street from 1949-85. Women paged through Simplicity patterns, measured material, selected buttons and purchased back-to-school clothes for their children. Farmers came in to buy work clothes and talk about the crops and the weather.
My mom, grandma, aunt and uncle all helped out.
Small-town family department stores like my Grandpa’s not only supplied clothing, they were an important tie to the community. It was a place where people came in and made a connection to others, however much in passing to people and then went on with their day, the bell jingling as the door shut behind them.
Houses burned, disasters struck. Years later, I learned my grandfather was known for getting up in the middle of the night and opening the store to supply clothing, shoes and blankets to the family who suffered the loss.
My mom and aunt shop, talk and laugh while coordinating outfits. They decide to make a pot of coffee at Grandma’s house before we all leave to travel in different directions down dark country roads.
At the house, my mother, Grandma and Aunt Margie sit at the dining room table and talk about who will host the next holiday and laugh. My mother says, “No, Mom, don’t get up, I’ll do it, you sit” — as coffee cups are refilled. The cousins and I gather in a circle in front of the TV and watch “The Wonderful World of Disney.”
— By Carrie Brown, Tribune community columnist