Tag Archives: Springrove Variety

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.

The Fishmonger

In search of inspiration: The Fishmonger

Dan Sodini, DMS Fish Supply owner at Ada Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Hooked on wild caught fish from the Straits of Mackinac at the local farmer’s markets

By Emma Palova

Ada, MI- It all started with a conversation, a few coolers and a canopy. And a brand-new enterprise was born 10 years ago.

But it took six generations of commercial fishermen, a passion for the great outdoors “Grizzly Adams” style and healthy eating to make the old trade work in new times.

Dan Sodini of DMS is the fishmonger, while his brother-in-law Jamie Massey is the fisherman of the Great Lakes based in St. Ignace.

“An opportunity to begin a small family business of taking wild caught fish from the U.P. to Farmer’s Markets around the state of Michigan came 10 years ago,” said Sodini. “We are celebrating our 10th year anniversary.”

The first market was in Midland, home to the DMS fish crew.

The DMS fish supply crew is based in Midland. Pictured are: Allie Sodini, Emma Sodini, Andrew Steger, Jacob Sodini, Jesse LaRue, Mega Sodini and Josie Sodini.

“We could drive to the U.P., stay with the family and get up and go to the market on Saturday morning,” Sodini said.

Rarely, do you see fish peddled at the local Farmer’s Markets. It’s mostly local home-grown produce spruced up sometimes with cheeses, breads and preserves.

“Some people were delighted and bought fish,” said Sodini. “Others took a little time.”

But after Sodini explained where, when and how the fish was caught, it all became easier.

“Once people tried it, they became customers and they’re still buying fish today,” he said.

Speaking about being hooked on genuine wild-caught fish taste.

Linda buys fish at the DMS booth in Ada.

I discovered the U.P. fish booth three years ago based on a word-of-mouth tip from a friend who lives in Ada.

“You know, there’s this fishmonger at the Ada Market and the fish is excellent,” she said. “Try it.”

Being a fish lover ever since I can remember buying trout at the “Rybena” deli in former Czechoslovakia, I didn’t need to be persuaded.

What first struck me unlike buying fresh fish at the stores, was that there was no fish smell around the booth. Everything was immaculately clean, and then Dan’s impeccable knowledge about the fish, surpassed the fish markets of Marseille.

The first time I bought all three “catch of the day”- fresh walleye, whitefish and trout, smoked whitefish and whitefish dip. It was an unsurpassed feast.

This is my favorite recipe: whitefish or trout baked with pesto and lemon. Bake for 20 minute at 350 F or on the grill.

In the beginning, DMS offered only fresh fillets which included: whitefish, walleye, lake trout, king salmon, yellow perch and smelt.

Over the 10 years, DMS has expanded both the fish selection and the farmer’s market locations.

“Once we realized that we could make a go of it, we expanded into other markets,” Sodini said.

DMS added smoked whitefish, lake trout, salmon and Laker bites, which are skinless, boneless bite size pieces of small lake trout.

“We have added our very popular smoked fish pate made with the fisherman’s recipe,” he said.

The pates include: smoked whitefish, salmon and lake trout. Brand new this year are the Laker patties, a fish burger or fish cake made with fresh lake trout, that can be grilled or sautéed in a skillet.

From August through mid- October, DMS has annual wild king salmon sales of the whole fish which averages 10 to 12 pounds. This yields approximately half to ¾ of the fish.

“With COVID we have experienced both a decrease and an increase in sales,” said Sodini.

The decrease mainly because of people not wanting to come out and take safety precautions while the increase is in direct access to wild caught fish vs. the limited high-priced beef and other meat products.

“From the beginning people chose fish for high quality protein,” Sodini said.

Backed by 150 years of Massey commercial fishing on the Great Lakes, Sodini, a former treatment specialist, found himself in the fish business. During his unemployment, the family had this important conversation about starting a fish distribution business.

“We are honored and proud to be a part of the family legacy,” he said. “We appreciate and are thankful for all of our customers from all over the state of Michigan, who are our friends and have supported us for 10 years.”


“I love what I do! Having the opportunity to offer wild caught fresh and smoked Great Lakes fish at local Farmers Markets is a privilege and a lot of work,” Mega said. But what I enjoy most is meeting each new customer and the friends that we have made over the 10 years we have been going to markets.”

On a Saturday market, DMS sells an average of 150 to 200 pounds of fish.

“The kids grew up on farmer’s markets,” he said. “They get paid and they love it.”

Today, the DMS crew does 12 markets a week:

Ada market on Tuesdays

Brighton on Saturday

East Lansing on Sunday

Flint on Saturdays

Frankenmuth on Wednesday

Holland on Wed.& Sat.

Meridian on Saturdays

Midland on Wed. & Sat.

Mt. Clemens on Sat.

Mt. Pleasant on Thursday

Northville on Thursday

The selling season is from May to October. From November through April, DMS does winter fish drops at the farmer’s markets locations.

“People can order frozen fish products biweekly or monthly,” Sodini said. “We deliver to each of the farmer’s markets location. The fisherman vacuum packs, blast freezes all of our fish fillets.”

You can find individual farmer’s locations at the DMS Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/dmsfishsupply

Next in the series “In search of Inspiration”- Springrove Variety, a piece of Americana gone from the US landscape

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

Three Sundays of Christmas

Bronze Sunday

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Joyful season starts right now.
Joyful season starts now.

The third Sunday before Christmas in Czech Republic is bronze Sunday. On that day all stores open their doors to shoppers, and the Christmas markets begin on the major squares in towns. The town squares shine with decorated  Christmas trees to the nines.
The timing coincides with the four weeks of Advent. I’ve noticed the same trend here in the USA. Area communities  such as in Honey Creek, Cannonsburg decorate and light their Christmas trees  around the same time, so does  Lowell in Michigan prior to the annual Santa parade held this year on Dec. 6th.
Small stores like the nickel and dime store Springrove Variety in Lowell are open on Sundays starting  Dec.7th from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Springrove Variety in Lowell will be open for the next two Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Springrove Variety in Lowell will be open for the next two Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Typically, this is the time when you get your mistletoe coated with white or gold for Christmas at the markets. The parasite plant that brings abundance and love is a must in European households.

Kissing under the mistletoe.
Kissing under the mistletoe.

To stay warm, the markets offer mulled wine with cinnamon sticks, grog or rum with tea, and hot beer. At this time of the year, I bought some of the most beautiful crochet linens.

But, probably the biggest of all Christmas traditions is the holiday baking that starts around this time.

Winter in Michigan
Frozen kingdom

The most famous pastries with almost a sacred quality are vanilla crescents and Linz sweets. Baking takes place at least two weeks ahead of time so they soften by Christmas.

Famous vanilla crescents.
Famous vanilla crescents.

The aroma from baking with vanilla and nuts fills the homes with that special holiday atmosphere. And as my facebook friend and real life cousin Marta Krajcova posted, and I quote:
“I love the smell of vanilla as it bakes in the crescents, it fills the house,” she wrote. “We’re almost done.”

I will feature the recipe on the new Travel & Food page  on http:// etravelandfood.wordpress.com

Follow me next week for Silver Sunday

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