Category Archives: COVID -19

A piece of Americana fades away

Springrove Variety in Lowell closes down

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI- He calls himself the shopkeeper standing behind the candy counter with an old-fashioned scale on original maple wood floors. Mike Sprenger, owner of Springrove Variety at the corner of Main Street and Riverside, is more than a business owner. He was like a sentinel on the Flat River keeping watch over the old times amidst the hustle and bustle of the growing town. Moreover, he created a family atmosphere inside the store modeled after his former employer, D&C. The store will close by the end of September, as Sprenger retires.

With one of a few nickel & dime stores remaining in Michigan, and mushrooming box stores, the competition was relentless. But so was the community support over the years.

“We’ve outlived our niche gradually over the 15 years,” he said. “The community support kept it going, that’s what makes it hard to close it.”

Hannah Ritsema behind the candy counter at the Springrove Variety in Lowell.

Sprenger opened Springrove Variety in its current location in January of 1995 after working for D&C stores. He started as a stock boy sweeping and washing floors. He worked himself up to district manager overseeing nine stores. When D&C closed in 1993, he started looking for a job. At first, he wanted to work for a wholesaler, but on second thought, he’d rather buy goods from one.

Based on a tip from a wholesaler, Sprenger found out about the store in Lowell. He moved from Walled Lake on the east side of the state to the Lowell area.

“I loved it,” he said.

Sprenger combined part of his last name and his partner’s Bob Grove to create the name, Springrove. Grove never entered the partnership.

He admits that the first years were challenging in finding connections with the wholesalers, building up the stock and finding out what the town wants. His consistent answer to customer requests was:

“I will get it,” he always said.

Then came the box stores and departments like clothes and shoes at Springrove Variety had to go. Instead the focus was on crafts and toys.

“We had to readjust our niche,” he said. “We could react faster than big stores to fad items like Beanie Babies, spinners and Cabbage Patch.”

To buy items at a competitive price from the wholesalers, Sprenger had to buy direct.

“It’s very hard to do,” he said. “What saved us, we had six stores, we brought in the goods and split it up.”

He grew the number of stores to six experiencing the highest peak in sales and employees in 2005 with 60 employees. He would split the inventory between the six stores located in Greenville, Trenton, Allegan, Wyoming, Marysville and Owosso.

As the wholesalers started going away, so did the dime stores. There used to be a dime store in every small town. Out of the seven wholesalers in the USA, there remains one variety distributor.

And then came COVID-19 in March of 2020 and everything deemed not necessary was shut down. It was precisely the crafts, the yarns and the puzzles that saved the store from going prematurely out.

“We were deemed essential,” Sprenger said. “People went nuts locked in their homes. We were here to supply the needs for COVID. It was a blessing for them and for us. We had wanted they wanted.”

However, Sprenger made the decision to retire long before COVID-19.

Like many dime store owners, Sprenger, 67, started feeling the age. He was working six days a week, 12 hours a day.

“It was time for me to slow down,” he said. “We did what we had to do.”

The loyal customers will miss the store as much as they will miss the shopkeeper. Most of them used to come into the store as kids and buy candy.

Sprenger could tell many stories from the store, but he related a heart-warming one. Back in his office, he pulled out of a box, a framed one- dollar bill with a yellow sticky note dated 2010 that said:

“I have lived in Lowell for 70 years. When I was 7 or 8, I took 1 or 2 penny balloons. It keeps bothering me. Please accept payment. Thank you.”

Call it a testimony or a souvenir to his five decades long career in the variety business. Also, his employees loved to work there; from the longest employee Linda Hamp to Hannah Ritsema.

“In a small town, Linda would know their names,” he said. “Everybody knew everybody.”

Jean Jeltema of Lowell recalls going to the store to buy fried peanuts and “Evening in Paris” perfume.

“They had stuff in flask squares and wooden floors,” she said. “Mike would always make an effort to get it for you.”

Dawn Ruegsegger of Saranac bought all her yarns at Springrove for kids and grandkids’ blankets.

“When my kids were young, I did cross-stitch blankets and got string and squares from there and did pillow cases,” she said. “So sorry it will be gone.”

But for most customers, the missing part will be the shopkeeper himself.

“I will miss talking to Mike and his family the most,” Ruegsegger said.

Three weeks ago, Jeltema bought elastic at the store for a mask at 20 percent off.

“I will miss him,” she said. “He was always right there, ready to help you. Mike knew his customers.”

Sprenger will serve on the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce Board and work for 20 hours overseeing the remaining stores in Marysville and Owosso for three more years.

He regrets that the grandchildren won’t know the atmosphere of the dime stores.

“That’s what we’re losing when the barber shops, the soda fountains and the dime stores go out,” he said.

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.


covid-19 testing

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI- I did my citizen’s duty and went testing for COVID-19 at Metro Health in Caledonia, MI this morning.

Shortness of breath and coughing prompted me to action last Friday as I called our family doctor in Lowell. We had a tele consultation to protect everyone. Following is the message I have received from our doctor.

“Thank you for your virtual visit with Metro Health on 7/24/2020. In addition to looking after your own well-being, you helped protect others by relying on a virtual visit that reduces opportunities for the spread of influenza and the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

Metro Health looks forward to resuming office visits once the coronavirus crisis is past. However, the advanced technology we’ve implemented in the form of e-visits, televisits and new virtual visits will continue to give you access to your providers in the ways that are most convenient for you.”

After arriving at Metro Health in Caledonia, I just stayed in the car and waited for the assistant to come out and take a nasal swab. It caused my eyes to tear and I started caughing, but it didn’t take too long to recover. The test results should take two days.

My husband got tested on July 1 after traveling internationally to Czech Republic and experiencing a persistent cough. He tested at the Kent County Health Department on Kalamazoo Ave in a testing tent outside. It took more that two weeks to get the results. That was his second COVID-19 test, because he had to have a negative test before traveling to Czech Republic. Both tests were negative.

As of early July the state of Michigan is averaging 19,000 tests per day with the goal of testing 900,000 people per month.

Testing locations are listed at

Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Day 60: covid-19 quarantine in michigan

Happy Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day 2019 at the Oakwood Cemetery in Lowell. This year’s Memorial Day parade and activities have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new normal ahead of Memorial Day weekend

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI – While northern Michigan is opening today for business in the COVID-19 era, the rest of Michigan is still on stay-at-home order through May 28 with many unknowns looming as we head into the Memorial Day weekend.

Hit by a dual disaster of dam failures in Midland, the state is suffering from a prolonged status-quo of the state of emergency, but eager to reopen.

Although the manufacturing sector is slowly starting up and the gardening places are open, we’re still not going to get a haircut, a steak or a tooth pulled.

Social distancing

This week I got a full-flavored taste of the new normal. A special meeting of the Fallasburg Historical Society on Monday, held at the site of the Tower Farm, was attended with board members wearing masks. The members were properly spaced six feet apart in a circle on the lawn by the Tower Farm.

Read the story “Tower Farm rennovations to complete Fallasburg village street look.”

Mask Wars

The issue of wearing masks has been at the forefront of fierce fights on Facebook, in stores, at home and in different organizations. The complaints against masks range from difficulty in breathing to freedom of choice. Somehow masks got political.

Luckily, living in the country, we have enough space to face-off the six foot social distancing challenge.

On day 58, I marked the passage of time by planting my window boxes with geraniums thinking about the health care heroes and praying for them.

Silver linings

In the afternoon we test rode our new EVs (electrical vehicles) that is bikes boosted with a battery. On the news, I found out that due to COVID-19, bicycles have sold out all over the country. People prefer bikes to public transportation for fear of getting infected.

There have been silver linings all along in the quarantine: increased outdoor activity, creativity and innovation to offset the cancelled parades and Memorial Day activities.

Although I’ve delayed the publishing of the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir,” I am moving ahead with the book launch planning. I will have my book launch at LowellArts, as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

Book launch at LowellArts

The book is now available for preorder on Amazon. Click below.

Greenwich Meridian Memoir

Memorial Day weekend tips

Gatherings of people up to 10 are allowed. However, people from different parties have to social distance.

Community dishes must be eliminated and replaced by everything individual.

Thank you health care heroes and essential workers for keeping us alive and fed.

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Copyright (c)2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Michigan manuf. & Auto industries reopen

More protests scheduled in Lansing, masks in public mandatory

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI – There is light at the end of the COVID-19 quarantine tunnel. After 48 days in the dark of the unknown, my husband Ludek returned back to his plastic injection molding job at Novaresc in Grand Rapids last week on May 11. Like for most, this was the longest time he has ever spent at home. He had to fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire and wear a mask. Other than that it was back to business as usual.

This was a major move ahead of the Detroit automakers starting back up today. The auto parts suppliers and tool and die shops, said they needed to get moving ahead of the auto plants.

However, it wasn’t until this Monday that Noveresc resumed full operation. According to Ludek, all scheduled workers showed up for work today at the plant.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement was a major step forward in restarting the state’s economy from the coronavirus pandemic, after a state of emergency was declared in Michigan on March 10 and a stay-at-home order issued March 23.

However, Whitmer extended the stay-at-home order through May 28, which had been scheduled to end May 15.

Manufacturing accounts for about 19% of the state’s economy, and close to 5% is already operating because it was deemed essential, Whitmer said.

Whitmer said the worst thing to do is “open up in a way that causes a second wave of infections and death, puts health care workers at further risk, and wipes out all the progress we’ve made. That’s why we will continue to monitor the spread of this virus, hospital capacity, testing rates, and more as we work toward reaching the ‘improving’ phase.”

Wearing masks in public is now mandatory, as we await further words about reopening of the other major industries: restaurants and beauty salons.

We are now on Day 56 of the quarantine and more protests are scheduled in Lansing for this week.

I resumed my regular writing schedule, which, however, consists of rescheduling, delaying and maneuvering around cancelled author events.

Thank you health care and essential workers for keeping us alive and fed.

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The featured photo was taken before the quarantine.

Next: To wear or not to wear a mask, Quarantine projects completed

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Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Day 46: COVID-19 quarantined birthdays

Happy birthday to all the people who are celebrating their birthdays in the COVID-19 quarantine in 2020.

Alright, I caved in and decided to celebrate my birthday tomorrow on zoom at the Pushkin’s Bar.

All you need is the free zoom app from the app stores to join in. I will send the link and the password tomorrow to join. You don’t need to wear a mask unless you want to. BYOB

The band of choice is Twisted Sisters with their “We’re not gonna take it.”

Thanks to graphic artist Jeanne Boss for creating the perfect me in the featured photo.

Copyright (c)2020. EMMA Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Day 45: COVID-19 quarantine fatigue

May eNewsletters, automakers readying to reopen

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI – I briefly snapped out of the quarantine lethargy, as the major automakers in Detroit have announced their tentative plans to reopen on May 18. That’s major good news for us, since my husband Ludek works in the plastic injection industry at Novaresc which serves the automakers.

However, as of Wednesday, the number of coronavirus cases in Michigan has risen to 45,054, including 4,250 deaths. The recovery total is 15, 659, and the nurses are prepared for more hard times.

The quarantine fatigue is settling in like this prolonged inevitable irritation. I sat in the car to escape the nagging irritation to the sound of Twisted Sisters’ “We ain’t gonna take it” and a bag of Dark Chocolate Medley by Second Nature and a bottle of Trilogy Kombucha.

Not only did I turn my beloved sunroom into a greenhouse with flats of plants waiting for the Michigan weather to become reasonable, but I am also engaging in more zooming and zoo rooming.

To add to my crankiness, I found out that the Wild Blueberry Festival in Paradise had been cancelled and moved to 2021. Another unknown is whether our French granddaughter Ella will be able to come and spend the summer with us.

That’s why I posted Ella’s birdhouses as the featured photo for this day. She made them at the St.Pat’s summer care program in Parnell. I hung them on my ficus in the sunroom turned greenhouse.

The good news is that I am done with the newsletters for May. It took me longer than usual, because I knew I had the time to do it and I didn’t want to reopen the new book “Greenwich Meridian Memoir” to add pictures to it, not just yet.

Below is the link to the May newsletter fresh off the presses.

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Copyright (c)2020. EMMA Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Day 44: A pretty day in the COVID-19 quarantine

Today is National Nurses Day, a fine prelude to Mother’s Day

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI – A peaceful sunny day finally came into the quarantine on this seventh Wednesday in the Michigan stay-at-home quarantine. The sunrays hit my sunroom just in time for the morning meditations with Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey.

The second cycle of meditations offered hope much like the sun and the growing cucumber and beet plants. The infusion in the cup had just the right temperature and somehow I knew everything was going to be fine, when the time is right.

The zoo room meeting went well and I headed out to the nearby Fallasburg Park to get some pictures. The park was full with cyclists, fishermen and pedestrians.

A trail marker on the North Country National Scenic Trail in Fallasburg.

I easily located the entrance to the North Country Trail by its blue and yellow marker near the Tower Farm in the Fallasburg village. I have yet to hike some parts of the trail close to us. The national headquarters of the trail resides in our hometown of Lowell.

I noticed the red hearts on the historical buildings in the Fallasburg village and the yellow ribbons honoring the health care heroes of this COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time in years, I had to send a card to my mother for Mother’s Day. I also finally found the guts to put on a mask made from my head band and to go shopping for flowers into my favorite Snow Avenue Greenhouse.

The gardening and landscaping places opened in the wake of protests against Gov. Whitmer’s strict stay-at-home orders for all non-essential businesses.

But, you could tell that the the greenhouse was a little bit behind with an entire long row of plants marked “Not ready for sale yet.”

If I was looking for a sense of normalcy, I would definitely find it here among the the hundreds of plants neatly organized in rows.

We got another take-out from Sneakers–a delicious enchilada. We have a total of $100 in gift certificates ready when the restaurants reopen, hopefully sometime after May 28.

The marque on the Larkin’s Other Place still read: “Thank you, closed until…..”

Thank you health care heroes and essential workers for keeping us alive and fed.

Stay tuned for day-by-day coverage of the COVID-19 quarantine in Michigan.

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Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Day 43: COVID-19 from the history of Spanish Flu Pandemic

History teaches us lessons. I couldn’t resist sharing this blast from the past: compliments of the Lake County Historical Museum in Baldwin, MI.

102 years ago our nation was fighting the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic. This family with their protective face masks paused in their daily life to pose for this family portrait. Obviously they were taking no chances with their pet cat as he is also outfitted with a tiny feline mask.

I am almost done with May e-newsletters. Now is the time to stay in touch with your customer/client base, so you are ready when the economy fully reopens. Contact Emma with your direct marketing needs.

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Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Day 42: COVID-19 May the Fourth be with you

Celebrating Star Wars, hope for reopening

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI – So today is Star Wars Day which celebrates George Lucas’s Star Wars media franchise. The date, according to Wikipedia, was chosen for the pun on the catchphrase “May the Force be with you.”

As we move into the eighth week of the quarantine in Michigan, we are hoping that all the positive forces will be with us to stop the spread of the virus and to re-engage the economy. The case numbers over the weekend seemed to either flatten or decline. On Sunday, the lowest increase of COVID-19 deaths was reported at 29 since March 29.

The total number of cases in Michigan is 42,356 with 3,866 deaths and 15,659 Michiganders have recovered. And the gas prices are rising to an average of $1.53 per gallon.

But the golfers at the Arrowhead Meadows are encouraging and so are the fishermen on Murray Lake.

May is a busy month as I continue to wrap up the “Greenwich Meridian Memoir.” Based on a consultation with mom Ella, I will be adding photos to the memoir. It is actually a joyful task to finally be able to go through the album with some perspective without the pressure of writing.

I like the pictures from Africa: the University of Khartoum and the apartments, where we lived. I actually remember them, the exotic markets and the River Nile.

I made friends while living in Khartoum, but I haven’t been able to locate them. So I don’t know if that counts, but it feels good.

Check out my May e-newsletter. I am including the Introduction and the first chapter of the memoir.

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Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Days 40&41: COVID-19 quarantine

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI – Spring has finally arrived in Michigan. The first leaves and blossoms are opening up on the trees. And the grass is green with an occasional dandelion or white and purple violets.

May is my favorite month because it is the month for renewal of everything: both in nature and in spirit. I enjoy the complete renewal of nature.

Instead of graduation signs for open houses, I saw signs with the Lowell Area Schools logo and the name of the graduate 2020.

Again on this Sunday, we watched a televised mass from the St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Grand Rapids.

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This weekend should have been the Spring into the Past event: a tour through the local museums organized by the Tri River Historical Museum Network. It was cancelled due to the COVID-19 quarantine.

Read the encouraging letter from the president of the Tri River Historical Museum Network, Sally Johnson on Fallasburg Today:

History is a fickle thing

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Copyright (c) 2020. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.