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Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Real Slice of Pure Michigan -- Not Long for This World

For the past few years I have had a love-hate relationship with Up-North Michigan. (And I have to say, Rick fuels the fire, but he's right.)



In the past ten years Up North has gone from being really a get-away to being a get-away-to-a-different-place-that-looks-too-much-like home. The proliferation of big-box stores like Lowes, Home Depot, WalMart and Meijer have put many of the smaller hardware and grocery stores out of business. Those small-town shops and stores were among the places that made my summer town of Gaylord (and many of the other northern cities) what they were -- a getaway from city life.



This is the Gaylord I remember from my childhood. The place I bought my school clothes, the five-and-dime, the single movie theatre downtown with a phone booth outside (our delight was phoning the booth when the movie got out to see who would answer!).

 

Tourism in Gaylord perked up after the town went "Alpine" in the 1960s. The Alpine movement wasn't all bad -- it brought a community together and increased tourism and the bottom line for the small shops that dotted Main Street. Faux Alpine buildings (most not done all that well) were all over town. Even Big Boy wore an alpine hat. I-75 came along and had two exits. A festival was in order. But with more people, the area became more attractive to chain restaurants and stores. With good comes bad.

It isn't just Gaylord. It's like that with little towns all over the north. I don't begrudge the permanent residents the flexibility to shop in stores that other spots have, I really don't. But I get a little crazy when I think of going north to relax and you can't even get past the highway exit because the street right after is a left turn into the WalMart lot and there is no left-only signal! If I wanted to go to WalMart, I would have stayed home. The sprawl drags on for miles out of town, so the proliferation of the "boxes" not only affects the independent merchants but puts a big blot on the landscape.


People around the country tell me they see the state's Pure Michigan campaign commercials on television and how beautiful our state is. And the commercials are well done and accurate to the point of showing what's left of the best. But what those commercials don't show is that wrapped up with the beautiful vistas, startlingly blue lakes, gloriously colorful fall foliage and breathtaking winter views are traffic jams, urban sprawl, chain restaurants out the wazoo and the same big box stores that you can find in any state at any time.

It's like taking a photo for your blog. The vignette on the table or cabinet, the piece of art, the close-up of the bowl of fruit on the kitchen table looks charming! Could any of us Susie Homemakers be better? But pull out to a wide shot and you might see the breakfast skillet still on the stove or a rug that not only needs vacuuming but is peppered with cat toys. Don't even think about that pile of craft supplies on the far end of the table!

Pure Marketing.

When I was a kid coming home from the lake with my mom, we'd always stop for lunch at the Lone Pine Restaurant in Grayling, about 20 miles away from the cottage. (Grayling, I might add, doesn't have a lot to offer in the shopping department but it stayed true to its small, up-north town image of a main street and minimal sprawl, except the strip when you exit the interstate.) We'd always have a burger with their special sauce, long before Mickey D. thought of the Big Mac.


Recently, Rick and I have taken to having breakfast there when we return on a weekday morning from the cottage as we did the Tuesday after Memorial weekend. Two eggs, toast, polish sausage to die for for about $5.50. Best breakfast in the north.


 
It's the kind of place you expect to see in Northern Michigan -- and the kind that is fewer and farther between. It's northern kitch. Pine walls and tables, a spaghetti board with specials, taxidermy on the walls, photo tributes to locals, a case of miscellany that is intriguing if not designed by House Beautiful. There are still bits of Christmas up. Quite a few bits of Christmas, to be honest, but since I'm a Christmas girl and still have two (small) trees in the house, I take no one down on that one -- simply observe!




It was quiet when we arrived. The usual crowd of morning folk had departed a bit before, our waiter said. For once, we had the restaurant and our waiter to ourselves. He was a charming, talkative fellow who had been around the area forever. Somewhere in the course of the conversation he mentioned the restaurant would close on August 1. After 50 years, the owner wants a rest, one she is entitled to. The restaurant is up for sale with little interest so far. One could only hope.


This hit us on any number of levels. For me, there was an emotional connection, that mom-and-kid lunch memory. For Rick and me, it's a fun spot to stop, a quirky, non-chain with fair prices. But what really hit us was the realization that "another one bites the dust." IF, and it's a big if, they sell the restaurant, chances are a new owner will spruce it up. Maybe (or maybe not) keep the bear and the deer on the wall and its wonderful pine walls.


They'll probably remove the wonderful paneling in the rest room. Really, I like this. Perfect for the environment, nicely done.



If it isn't stripped and leveled for another Dollar Store, they will "upgrade" things. Prices will escalate -- you have to pay for those renovations somehow. And assuming they have the willingness to give it charm, chances are it will be faux charm, just like Gaylord, twenty miles to the north, is faux Alpine.


Who knows what will happen then. What I do know now is that we will eat at Lone Pine many more times before August 1. And be grateful we had the chance to include this little spot in our own bank of northern memories, before Up North becomes Down South at Higher Altitude.

25 comments:

Retired English Teacher said...

This is/has happened in the small mountain towns of Colorado also. It is so sad to see. I think that it some ways it is worse here because we have gambling in many of the charming towns of my youth. The gambling casinos have taken away all of the charm.

House-elf said...

I so hear you. It is the same in England. The Oxford I knew has the same historical city centre buildings, but the roads are clogged more than ever, people have divided their gardens to put another property on, in the suburbs, with no extra roads for these squashed houses. It wasn't the place I loved anymore. When I saw women wearing burkas in the place where I used to do my local shopping, I truely felt like a foreigner. It made me glad that I had such lovely memories. I hope you can preserve your memories too.

anno said...

So sorry to hear this, Jeanie. I hate the impulse toward homogenizing "improvements" as well, and it makes me sad to lose places that carry the personality of the people who made them. At least the lakes still remain...

handmade by amalia said...

I also miss the charm and characters of small shops. I don't see how anyone can survive against mega stores.
Amalia
xo

I need orange said...

It's not just up north, and not just the little towns. Ann Arbor is being overrun with condofungus -- more and more housing is going up everywhere. 10-15-story buildings are springing up like mushrooms downtown, and grassy fields at the outskirts are disappearing under more and more units of "townhomes"....................

Ann Arbor, as a town with a walkable downtown, has been a lovely place. Now the quality of life is being seriously degraded. Have any of the people who think all of this is a good idea ever walked past a tall building in the winter, to feel the gale of icy wind generated by tall structures? Have any of them stopped to consider how many birds and small critters have lost their living space to more and more construction and pavement?

I wonder if anyone actually wants the much more big-city-type thing "they" are avidly turning Ann Arbor into.................. I surely don't.

:-(

Anonymous said...

I was born up north but was moved down to Erie, MI. I always wanted to go up north and learn things I always wondered about. My fiance and our son decided we wanted to take a small vacation up north for the weekend. Little did we know the whole family wanted to go and after we got up north, the next day they came up too. I did not want to make waffles for 7 people so I asked my fiance if he wanted to go anywhere special for breakfast. He wanted to go to the Lone Pine Restaurant. So we all loaded up and went to the Lone Pine I loved it from the moment we pulled in. The wood on the outside the way it looked like it was a cozy place for a family to eat. I asked my fiance why he really wanted to go to the Lone Pine. He told me Fred Bear would come in every morning and eat his breakfast. His dad and him was checking out the archery and the items they had on the wall. Our waiter informed us the owner was going to have an auction of the stuff and that she wanted to sell the place. Now I'm not a lawyer or doctor or anything fancy but this was something I always dreamed about doing. My fiance and I have talked about moving up north the whole time we have been together but both knew it wasn't possible for us. When we were told she wanted to sell I looked over at him and said I love it, of course he asked if I was forsure. I told him this is something that I would be great at. I know im young but I have build myself up from little. I am looking for any infomation on the sale or the price or anything. I have called and talked to the owner but she seemed like maybe she was having a bad day or so. But she told me it was going up foreclose on the 1st of August and then I would have to talk to the bank. I want to keep it a restaurant I dont want to change the cozy feeling. I just want to fix the things that need to be fix and keep the restaurant going. I love the wood smell, the cozy feeling, the familys that come in, the waiters are so nice. I know im young but im looking to make my future the best one I can create for my family and this is everything I could ask for. If anyone knows of any information that would help me please email me. (hmccammon1993@yahoo.com)

gigihawaii said...

It's the same way here in Hawaii. Very little of paradise left.

Mae Travels said...

We spent last Thursday and Friday night in Grayling, our first time ever there. We didn't find the Lone Pine, but ate in several other locally run places and stayed at a very nice B&B, Borchers, which is also a canoe livery on the Au Sable. Since I knew nothing of the past, I could enjoy the present. And that's the intractable problem, isn't it -- knowing the past messes up the way you see the present whether it's Gaylord, MI, Ann Arbor, Colorado, Oxford, England, or anywhere else.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

It has happened everywhere. To get away, I find it's sometimes best to stay in my home, open a good book and let words take me on their wings. Dollar stores, Costcos, Walmarts, McDonalds...and the last time I was in France, the rest of the country was what I always dreamed but dear and lovely Paris? Well, most of the city was what I wanted but I quickly learned where to NOT go in order to avoid the Pizza Huts, McDo (as the French call them) and other American -influences. All we want is a little slice of memories, don't we dearest Jeanie? Yep, when I went back "home" to Los Angeles last year, it didn't look the same. Even the house I grew up in was completely different. But, that's life. Change is a huge teacher.

Wishing you FABULOUS new beginnings this summer!

The French Hutch said...

Sounds all to familiar Jeanie. The same thing happened to our beautiful secluded beach towns along the AL gulf coast and FL panhandle. It is hard to find a stretch of natural beach to walk. All the mom and pop shops and restaurants have been replaced with big shopping centers and fast food. I miss that for all the children. Times, they are a changing!

bj said...

Yes, it has happened to so many small, quaint towns...
I have a love/hate relationship with Walmart...

Victoria Zigler said...

Unfortunately, this is happening everywhere now, and pretty soon the only way to escape from the things you see everywhere and wish you didn't will be by using your imagination.

Ruth said...

Great post, but sad! I agree with you 100%.

Don and I will have to get to the Lone Pine this summer, and pronto. Just our kind of place for breakfast.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Oh sad... it's tough to see big box retailers come into quaint areas and it's always really sad when a place you love goes up for sale and you have to cross your fingers that the new owner won't ruin the good thing they've got going. My parents lake home is near a town that is really cute and full of small, locally owned shops and restaurants, but Dollar General came in this winter. Womp womp. I just hope that stores like that don't put the other smaller stores out of business. As consumers, we can try to do what we can to support the little guys and gals, but if the majority of people in the area don't do that then the small shops will go out of business which is just so sad. :(

Betsy@My Salvaged Treasures said...

It's so sad to see what's happening to so many of these charming little towns. I've always thought that the mom and pop restaurants were second to none!! I'd chose a place like The Lone Pine in a heartbeat. I really hope they can find a new buyer who will appreciate the history and charm.

Becca said...

This is so sad. These are the kinds of places that make small towns so unique,mad you know. There are far too many box box stores, selling merchandise made from cheap labor in other countries. But it takes a brave soul to buck the system with an independent establishment nowadays. I'll be interested to know what happens to the Lone Pine.
BTW, is The Sugar Bowl restaurant still open there?

Lisa said...

What a cool place to visit. I had to laugh when I saw the "Lone Pine", as that's the name of the town right next to me. Your photos are awesome. I love to visit new places.

Lisa said...

What a cool place to visit. I had to laugh when I saw the "Lone Pine", as that's the name of the town right next to me. Your photos are awesome. I love to visit new places.

Joanne Huffman said...

It looks like lots of people feel the same way you do. I sometimes feel that I tend to romanticize the past; but, I also don't like urban sprawl. I love many aspects of living in the 21st century, but they do come at a high price.

Anonymous said...

Sad to say, this is the way ALL of America is going...If it were my choice, I would burn all the Walmarts to the ground. Don't like shopping at them either (they never have anything I want)!

Marilyn Miller said...

I just hate when this happens. I won't even shop at Walmart for this reason, they just push these little businesses out. So sad for you on so many levels. I hope someone takes over this little business, but I agree after 50 years it is time for a break. We had a little Japanese market that had been open for about that long and it was so sad when they closed, but they said they wanted to travel and couldn't with the little business.

susieq512.com said...

If I were younger, I would definitely be interested in buying that little restaurant, and preserving its heritage. I fell in love with Michigan a few years ago when we ventured north for a few vacations. I, too, hate faux anything. It's so disheartening to see this kind of "improvement" all across our country. Why do people always want bigger and, supposedly, better? Why do we have to have more, more, more? It will probably be cyclical, just like so much of life is, but what will be left? I wonder.

Kitty said...

Aren't we fortunate to have had the experiences and made the memories. Stories like this will help preserve the memories if not the actual towns. Life goes on, but sometimes it seems to take the wrong roads! Thanks Jeannie

Arti said...

It's sad isn't it, to see independent stores closing, replaced by major chains and franchises. I'm just looking forward to my New England trip, driving through small towns, albeit those are tourist small towns. Maybe I'll be seeing something like your Up-North Michigan.

shoreacres said...

Well, you've already read my sad tale of the Camp Verde store. The good news in that story is that the corporation that bought the place is interested in at least marketing the heritage, and because of that, there will be many more people who will be aware of "how it used to be." And after all -- when it comes to a store, you sell what's on offer in your time. I'm sure if the original owner, the good Mr. Williams, still were around, he'd be stocking his shelves with things that will sell.

So -- keeping a connection with the past is possible, but when the crowds start arriving, things necessarily change. And when the tear-down-rebuild folks show up, I tend to feel all is lost!

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