Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Live Oak Coffeehouse

Live Oak owners, Aaron and Renee' Deckrow

"Conversations over a cup of coffee can be life changing" 
-Renee' Deckrow

A vintage light bulb, a record player spinning with reminiscent music, a soft embracing chair and artwork from local masters of the trade. Historical nooks echoing with years of business in days gone by are now shifting to the laughter of friendships, the listening ear of family members, the glow of a laptop and progress being made. The ambiance of Live Oak Coffeehouse bids one to come, and feel they belong and can find solace inside. Never was there a shop that so truthfully proclaimed that its heartbeat is to "love people" so well. To me, walking into "trendy" locations has always been intimidating. I am not the type to sit in a coffee shop, I don't fit the prototype, whatever that even is. And then came a different vibe on our very own Ashman Street, an everybody type of place.

Art Deco Ashman Plaza has quite a history, originally the Knights of Columbus and known for serving some wonderful fish fries, it eventually became the HQ for many other places of business and entertainment. For example, KC Bowling came on the scene with the bravest of live pin setters. Later, Ashman Plaza became known as the "The Blue Light Building" in 1966, booming with wedding receptions and teen dances. The building is rich with history, always a place that brought people together from groceries, dance lessons, Coupie's Butcher Shop, boy scout meetings, a bike shop, retail shops and the Secretary of State. It is now alive again, restoring that glory with businesses that not only bring people together, but help them thrive in every aspect. You can go to Ashman Plaza to find help in building your business, receive professional counseling, get your hair and nails refreshed, learn life skills, get fresh air for your lungs, have a photo shoot, exercise your body, let your kids play while having some parent-community time, learn to paint, learn to use your camera, have a trivia date night or learn to crochet... oh yes, and my main reason to visit... drink coffee. Ashman Plaza has been redeemed, to say the least. Although the entire building is intriguing and full of businesses to explore, Live Oak was my main focus for this visit. I wanted to hear the "what and why" behind the captivating little shop that is more often than not brimming with people.

Owned by Aaron and Renee' Deckrow and opened in 2017, their hand on this building has gone from transforming the building, to touching midtown. Renee's vision of Live Oak was to create a space for "makers, dreamers and doers", to do their thing, meeting and growing together in a positive atmosphere. Also, to form a place for friends and family to have those special, critical, memorable moments. She states "conversations over a cup of coffee can be life changing" because "meeting over coffee is so approachable". Live Oak was created to be a gateway to those important conversations, a gateway to good things happening in the community and a gateway to the other life breathing businesses in the building, allowing the employees and owners to come together and encourage one other.

Sitting with Renee', anyone will walk away inspired. Her passions reach deeply into her soul and she is sincere to the core. She is a thriving business owner, and yet will be the first to sit down and compare notes and be real that the journey is not all roses. "Owning a small business is not for the faint of heart" she notes, "but it can be very worth it". When asking Renee' to share with other business owners what she felt was the most difficult about owning a small business, she remarked with a gentle smile, "all of it". She continued, "all life is hard. Work is hard, being patient is hard, relationships are hard. We have to really embrace that to move forward with any of it". The phrase "do what you want and you won't work a day in your life" is not the most realistic perspective, in Renee's opinion, although the sentiment holds some truth because it's wonderful to do what you love, there is still always going to be a grind to it. "Being willing to have difficult conversations with others you work with is not easy" she shares, "and neither is being at the mercy of public opinion". To be a successful business owner these are some of the things Renee' believes one will have to wrap their mind around, as well as always watching for trend changes in their niche.

Yet the Deckrows are not people that dwell in the hard stuff. Renee' says her husband, Aaron, has been the greatest source of encouragement to her in the hard moments, always telling her to simply focus on doing the "next good thing". Perhaps Renee's most inspiring encouragement is to remember, "even dreaming is hard, but it is so important, it's like exercise". "Discipline is hard, but accept it and let it help grow you". Problems are "soil for a fresh idea" she says, and encourages that small business owners should take the growth of their businesses on their own shoulders instead of solely blaming trends, business partners, locations or employees. She states you can either run from the problems of business ownership or be flexible, come together and resolve them and be resourceful.


When asked what she loves about business ownership Renee' stated, she adores serving the community, this is seen in the way she and Aaron intentionally fill the building with businesses that breath life into people. It can also be seen in their ongoing of presence at community happenings, involvement in developing Midtown Midland Neighborhood Association, support of local food vendors,"Coffee Blitzs" that give exposure to other local businesses and organizations, and special events that bring community together like this fall's "Gather at Grove". Renee' and Aaron also cherish their employees deeply and know without a doubt that their employees are the heart of the business and the first to touch the community. Renee' also remarked she absolutely loves that Live Oak is a place for everyone. She is pleased that people can feel welcome and know when they enter the building, that no one is excluded. The environment truly is a mirror of their slogan to "Like Coffee, Love People". I noticed easily when I was there that it was a judgment free zone. Employees always greet everyone warmly, by name when they can, and serve with such positive energy.

Daniel Terhune, General Manager

Live Oak has been overseen by general manager, Daniel Terhune, from the start. Daniel abounds with the talent to run the show and is also a gifted expert of deliciousness. He is the sole creator of the menu at Live Oak, abounding with ideas from sandwiches, to "no-nonsense bars" all the way to creating the very syrups the coffee shop uses which make Live Oak such a very original experience. Day Managers Jazzmyn "Jazz" Benitez and Sean Bartley are gifted baristas who know the grind well and are known for their skill, likeability and hospitality. They, along with an average of 12 employees, make Live Oak thrive. Remembering names, remembering "the usual" and always smiling and serving with vivacious hearts.

Day Managers, Jazz and Sean

Getting lost in the inspiration of these business owners, I realize I have lacked really doing any "product" review. Which is fitting in a sense, as Live Oak is so much more about connections and people. But that said, with the same passion they have for seeing people connect, they are passionate to see that the people of Midland are connecting over products that are not only, worth while, but of highest quality imaginable. The skillfully made drinks are made with utmost consideration of the consumer, because the consumer is instantly friend, neighbor and family so their opinions and insight are richly valuable to the Live Oak team.

Along with their own delicious and original line of drinks and foods, Live Oak has a passion to link with other local businesses. Some businesses from our very own Midland, and others from throughout the state of Michigan. Great Lakes Potato Chip, Northwoods Soda, Mindo Chocolate Makers, GFB Bars, Fraser Tea, Esch Road Foods, Fruitbelt, Cultured Ferments Co., Creation Coffee, Katie's Kitchen, Cheeky Cheesecakes, Mittenprints, Simply Bloom and fresh produce, milk, and cider is used from local growers as often as possible as well.  We highly encourage you to seek out and support these other wonderful businesses as we know Live Oak would encourage it as well.

Among the lovely staff and products of Live Oak, there is another iconic characteristic we have all taken in, the stunning mural by Mark Piotrowski at MARKed ARTS. The mural alone has changed the feel of Midtown, as it reminds us of the importance of enjoying moments of rest in life in order to be restored so that we are ready to let our dreams grow. It is also a great reminder that the effect of our dreams sends ripples into the lives of others as we are reminded of in Mother Theresa's quote "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across waters to create many ripples."

When asked what she treasures about Midland, Renee' was quick to say there are so many great opportunities in a town that is small, in the fact that you can easily connect and see people you know whenever you are out, but there is also the "culture and aesthetics" of a larger town. She also enjoys the way Midland cares about the community with so many opportunities like wonderful schools and many great parks.

Live Oak is a place made by dreamers, for dreamers. A place deeply inspired by world changers, for world changers. As a gorgeous tree filters the scorching rays of the sun to expose the healthy warmth of a place to gather safely in the shade, Live Oak and Ashman Plaza have begun to do the very same for the town of Midland. Providing a place to rest, relax and dream as dreams take flight. And although we are proud to claim that Live Oak's roots grow down into our great city of Midland, its branches are soon to be reaching to our neighbors in Uptown Bay City too! What a great opportunity for another great town to be blessed by the presence of positive small business!

Don't mind if we do.

#meetmeinuptown too!
Live Oak currently can be found at 711 Ashman Street in Midland
(989) 423-1800

Article by Hope Krotzer
Photography by Michelle Delzer and Hope Krotzer



Thursday, August 30, 2018

Red Threads Custom Apparel Printing

“People filled with the Spirit of the Creator,
   should have the best creations.”
     -Josiah Blackmore

Josiah Blackmore is a no-nonsense kind of guy, I gleaned that within our first few minutes together. It’s easy to understand when you hear his dream and how he got to where he is today—he’s keenly focused, on a mission, and I have no doubt his dream will come true.
Josiah is the owner of Red Threads, a screen printing, vinyl heat pressing and embroidery print shop. You might think someone with a company like this simply aspires to be the biggest, the best, and the most profitable. He does, but here’s why: Josiah’s purpose in life is to spread the Word of God. He wasn’t necessarily trying to be the best at screen-printing, but, as hard work and dedication would have it, he just is.
Josiah was brought up in a Christian family, but he struggled, as many young people do, with his purpose and faith. He regularly went to church but wasn’t a steward. In his late teens and early twenties, he got into some trouble and wasn’t sure what was next in his life. He was searching for answers, building a worldview and he came upon the revelation that God and the Devil are both very real. It was a visit to Chicago with a friend that changed things. They were watching a Christian documentary when God came to Josiah and said “you have never lived for me a day in your life. That ‘Christian’ life you’ve been living is not a Christian life—dude.” Josiah felt that this served two purposes: to show him he was living a lie and that what came next in life would be greater and more exciting. He felt the darkness move away and light come in. The next seven days he said were a ‘euphoric and peaceful experience.’ Josiah dug his nose in his Bible and that Book confirmed that what was happening to him was exactly what it said would happen. This was his spiritual birth. At 21 Josiah became a Christian. He was ready to give his life but now he needed orders, he wondered if he should be a pastor or build mud huts in Africa.
One day, he felt compelled to cover a shirt in the Word of God. As he described it “it was big, loud and dorky” and, as a result, he received questions and comments and it opened conversations. An idea was born. What if he could cover a shirt in God's Word in all languages? And that is the passion project. Someday shirts covered in the Word will be sold all over the world in different languages. He showed me a pilot run of a shirt with the book of John. It’s beautiful in its simplicity. It’s so tiny, you can’t easily read it, but people will say, “what does your shirt say?” This is the goal. He painted a picture of people at Dow wearing a nice button up that from afar looked patterned, but it was covered in the Word of God. He sees an opportunity to have a higher quality Christian apparel company in the market and Red Threads will be that provider. As he put it “people filled with the Spirit of the Creator, should have the best creations.”
Josiah admits he has been blessed by the kindness of others—several times thousands of dollars of equipment was donated to him to help him get started or to expand. For six months he worked rent-free and then a year-and-a-half low-rent thanks to INCUBA8LABS. He had to learn to run a business, first, and thankfully, it laid on his heart to start this business in Midland. This has been a tool for character development and to perfect the craft; and, as it continues to grow he can focus on pursuing the truly global vision. Josiah did not know much about printing until he attended the "University" of YouTube. Yep, Josiah is self-taught. His dedication to a quality product is second to none. He has developed a network of professionals and mentors to continue to learn and grow. In fact, he said if your prints crack after 25 washes, you need a new printer. He had me feel a sample shirt and it was soft, almost like the print was sewn in by the garment maker; not plasticky like we are used to.
Midland is a haven for small businesses, this has been a huge blessing because they support each other and make up a significant portion of Red Threads client-base. Josiah lit up when he described one such customer—rare and amazing—this client even gave he and, his wife, Abbi a wedding card.
Red Threads is unique in this business because of their dedication to customer service. They are focused on bulk orders and when you spend that kind of money, you expect a lot. Josiah is determined to rise to meet, or exceed, that expectation. Customers sit with Josiah at the very table where I interviewed him, and they work together to bring their ideas to fruition on the computer screen.
Why the name Red Threads? Josiah’s favorite color is red, and this is an apparel-based business after all—clever. But, really, it’s because Jesus is the Red Thread, mentioned in every book of the Bible—without Him, there would be no Christianity.
As we were wrapping up, office manager, Abbi Blackmore and Chief Marketing Officer, Chili (pictured below), arrived. This dynamic trio will surely thrive, and you should watch it happen by following them on Facebook or by visiting www.redthreads.com.
Red Threads is located at 616 Haley Street and can be contacted at 989-600-8540 
Article and Photography by Joslyn Chulski

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Every Day Life and the Rural Community Health Worker Network Training Center

Jessica Murrell, Shannon Lijewski and Andrea Burton

"Training opens a person's eyes to how they can help others so generations to come, people can live on their own wings.” 
- Shannon Lijewski
Founder and CEO of Every Day Life and The rCHWn Training Center

There is something to be said about good steady bridges. They get us from where we are, take us over an obstacle, to where we long to be, or more importantly where we need to be. Here, right in our very own county, are men and women working to be bridges in many different ways, each way just as important as the next. They are Community Health Workers, or CHWs as you will hear them called.

In many urban communities CHWs are becoming very well known for the work they do, but in a predominantly rural county like Midland, Michigan, many people often don't know that CHWs are starting to make effective connections in the neighborhoods and communities outside the city limits as well. There is an overwhelming need for bridge builders in the country.

CHWs come in many forms. A workforce that started predominantly in the medical field is now seen as successful and effective in many other facets. A CHW is an individual who helps to bridge the gap between community members in need and the professionals that can help meet those needs. For example a CHW could be a liaison between a medical professional and a community member. They help the community member navigate through the questions the doctors or nurses would ask in a way that may be more understandable and less intimidating. And now CHWs work way beyond the medical field. As Shannon Lijewski explained, just as there are different types of doctors and teachers, there are different types of CHWs. Some help with integration into society after an addiction, some help with those who fall victim to human trafficking or abusive relationships, yet others are first responders, equine therapists, school paraprofessionals, and faith workers. Many CHWs are busy neighbors who simply see a need to break a cycle in their
very neighborhood and help with community gardens, visiting neighbors, food pantries and little free libraries.

Community Health Workers know the culture of the area they work in, usually because they too live in that exact area and have for quite some time. They understand the lingo, the nuances, and the socio economic norms for the area very well, better than many doctors, judges, parole officers and DHS workers would, who are usually from different areas and circumstances. Also, a rural community health worker would pick up on things that an urban CHW might miss in the same situation, and vice versa. Even in a town as small as Midland, the cultural differences from Center City to the county lines can be vast. Community Health Workers are known for carefully using a nonjudgmental approach. This way of connecting with people breaks down barriers so those that are receiving assistance feel little to no intimidation accepting the help offered to them. CHWs don't provide a hand out, or a hand down, they provide a hand over to their very neighbors, simply helping, connect and educate. And what can fuel their fire to do so, besides their already tremendously beautiful hearts, is incredible, quality training.

More than 10 years ago Shannon Lijewski, started her consulting firm "Everyday Life". A name thought up as she and her husband Keith discussed the importance of helping people in their community navigate through the ins an outs of the very place they all live, work and play... in their every day lives. Shannon grew up the child of an entrepreneur father who strictly hired parolees in order to better their lives and a mother who was a corrections officer, it was in her blood to have a passion to help break cycles and help people see their full potential. Seeing a great need that was going unmet in rural areas, she also began the Rural Community Health Workers Network (rCHWn)Training Center. The training center is located in the village of Sanford within Midland County.

Although she is the founder and CEO, Shannon is incredibly humble and runs the business with a view of her employees as complete equals. Along with Shannon, the team at the rCHWn Training Center consists of Andrea Burton, Director of Training and Outreach with a Bachelors in Marketing, and Jessica Murrell, Creative Marketing Director with a Masters in Business Administration. As a team they fit like a "perfect storm" as Shannon refers to them. The wonderful thing about networking, even with your own employees, is that you all can work together incredibly well when you are each contributing in the areas you are talented in. They all bring their own incredible strengths into play which makes a thriving and effective small businessThe rCHWn Training Center started in April and is the only known rural CHW training center in the nation. The need for such a place in our community and country has been confirmed by their 400% growth rate from April to July alone. 

 The Training Center offers a very high quality training, preparing CHWs around the state and the nation to effectively work in their communities and make a difference. Training is a 6 week course, 2 days a week, a schedule that offers CHWs time to process what they are learning, but also allows them to continue a somewhat normal work week at there places of employment. Training focuses on many skill sets and aspects such as "motivational interviewing" and "nonbiased thinking". The training truly empowers people who at times are doing the work of a CHW and are not aware of the position they are already play in the community.

So what sets apart this Training Center from others? Mostly the great balance of diverse talents available in the team. Jessica mentioned, rCHWn and Every Day Life is a great place to work, everything is always new, every day something positive happens, and although they are not faith based in their actual training, employees are free to talk about God and pray about situations they encounter. The Training Center is hugely inclusive, drama free, safe atmosphere for employees, trainees and members of the community. As Andrea says "it is not about your knowledge, but about the connections you make. This is a workforce where individual experts grow with maturity so they can be equipped to respond to situations effectively without creating more trauma".

Director of Training and Outreach, Andrea Burton, is a very highly sought after trainer. People from near and far have come to receive training especially from Ms. Burton. She is one of only 10 individuals in the entire state that have completed the core competency to be a trainer. Andrea has received additional training through Michigan ACEs Initiative giving the rCHWn Training Center recognition as a "Community Champion". She is also a recipient of the Shining Star Award from the United Way of Midland County. Her training sessions are known to be full of her engaging charisma and confidence, but most of all for her passion to help others see how they can influence their communities effectively. Her passionate message to fellow rCHWs throughout the country is that "training is available, necessary and valuable". She desires to help those in other communities realize they are CHW's. 

As often time happens for CHWs, Andrea did not realize that she was doing the work of a CHW until Shannon pointed it out to her, then through training she went beyond her potential in understanding and effectiveness. Andrea has always had a natural passion to help others. Working on the truancy team for Bullock Creek Public Schools, she could see clearly that so many issues rural community members deal with, go much deeper than many people realize and her desire to do more grew continuously. She is now the visionary and creator of a program of The Rural Community Health Workers Network Training Center known as C.O.R.E (Community Outreach Resource Extension). The program's proof of concept site is based at Midland Missionary Church, a local church in the Lee Township area. This program has many successful facets to help in the community, including a community garden, food pantry and little free library.

The rCHWn Training Center just recently gained its non profit status and is currently building up their board of directors. Shannon Lijewski currently serves as the interim president, Keith Lijewski, also a CHW in the community, serves as treasurer, and Jessy Bordeau serves as secretary and is a passionate community advocate that is willing to stand up for those under served in the community. A goal is set for a future board of 10 members with at least 51 percent of directors being CHWs. It is important to the team that the board is constructed by those who know the heart and work of a CHW. A steering committee will also soon be organized.

If you are a CHW, are interested in the work of a CHW or even just wanting to stay connected to how CHWs are growing and the differences they are making, you're encouraged to become part of the network!
To do so please visit www.everydaylifechw.com/join-now.

The Rural Community Health Worker Network Training Canter in Sanford, MI is available as a free space for all CHWs to work and gather. This is an incredible resource as many CHWs do not have budgets to allow investment in personal offices or work spaces, and the aspect of being together with other CHWs is powerful.

To learn more about Every Day Life and the rCHWn please visit
or their Facebook Page
Center location
 344 E. Saginaw, Sanford, MI 48657

Article and Photographs by Hope Krotzer

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Paper Heart Design

“I get to be a tiny part of other people’s big dreams…of their stories.” - Annie Stout

If you are anything like me the second you meet Annie Stout from Paper Heart Design, you want to be like her when you grow up. Yes, I sort of like design but that is not why I want to be like her, it’s because she said to me that she has her dream job. One day she realized “oh my gosh, all of the things I wanted have come true.” She wanted to be a mom-check. She wanted to be an artist-check. And she can do all of this because she has the support of her best friend and husband, Jerod. Goose. Bumps.

Ready to be impressed? You have seen Annie’s logo work all around Midland—Live Oak Coffeehouse, Captured Community, Serendipity Road, RE Krotzer Construction and Let’s Go Midland—to name a few.
One of the best things about small business owners is finding out how they got where they are. So, let’s do that. How did Annie come to have her dream job, her dream life?
Annie has always been an artist. Almost every time her mom, Diane, would ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up, it was some form of artist—except that one year she thought she might be a professional soccer player. Her mom said she had to buy a new box of crayons every other week.
GEEK-OUT MOMENT: I had to ask: What is your favorite Crayola® 64 color? Cerulean. I gasped because I had been saying Cerulean in my head (ok, I was mispronouncing it in my head, but it was the same color). FYI it’s: [səˈro͞olēən].
Not only did her mom keep her stocked up with supplies, she was one of her inspirations. She was supportive, helping Annie to write stories and cut pictures out of magazines; she even took Annie to a course about being an entrepreneur at the age of 10. She sat with Annie for hours as she sold handmade book marks and those Rudolph candy canes with the googly eyes. Annie shared that her mom is also an amazing sewist/quilter and used to do woodworking regularly. Today, her mom is really into nature photography so, it’s clear she is creative at heart too.  Same with her dad, Allan. He might not seem creative in a traditional way, but his support was endless. He was really into music and would spend time with Annie looking at album cover art while they listened to Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix. One time he rented the VHS ‘Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller’ from the library, so she could see the original to help her with her dance performance. Annie said, “My parents did a good job of letting me be who I was and encouraging what I was clearly meant to do.” They sure did, and for that, we are thankful!

    Annie went to CMU to study and finished with BAA in Graphic Design, Sculpture, and Art History. Turns out she was her own first client. For a final school project, she created her wedding invites. This started a small side gig where friends and family members were asking for invites for weddings and parties. She opened Paper Heart Design on Etsy in 2008. She worked odd jobs through the years; chain store photography manager, in-house graphic artist at a print shop, marketing manager, but she always comes back to Paper Heart Design. Her heart is in freelance. Having the privilege of being a stay-at-home mom to her two daughters, Allison and Madeline, has afforded her the time as they have gotten older, to focus back on her design work.

WHAT ABOUT THAT NAME? Annie has always loved Stone Temple Pilots and her favorite song at the time was “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart.” She didn’t want the name to be obvious. Mission. Accomplished. Well, until now…the secret is out.
    Annie has been doing this for 10 years, but she feels like 2016 is when she started legitimately. An acquaintance (now friend and business partner, Mirandy) posted on Facebook asking if there were any creative moms out there looking to make extra money as a painting instructor once or twice a month. It was for Captured Community, which is part of Captured Studios. By the end of the first meeting/interview she was asked to help complete the design for their logo. They had a good idea of what they wanted, they just didn’t have the programs to make the professional vector art files needed—they entrusted Annie with that task. When she started teaching at Captured Community she said it just felt right— “I’m supposed to be here.”  

    As you can imagine, this is how she came to design that iconic Live Oak logo and then word of mouth led her to create logos for so many other local Midland businesses.
    As with many small business owners she really isn’t selling her business, she is selling herself (she is the business): “people don’t want to just fill out a form, they want a connection.” She wants that collaboration, she wants to help small business owners get what is in their head out and create a piece unique to their vision. Annie might think that a design is perfect at round one or two, but she will revise until the owner is completely satisfied—it’s going to represent them and their business. Annie’s work is so important, as she said it: “the logo is your first impression.”
    Annie’s biggest challenge as a small business owner is time. With a young family and a one-person shop, she has had to take sabbaticals now and again from her work to refresh or focus on family. But this woman is on fire, not only is Paper Heart Design up-and-running she is co-owner to two other small thriving businesses: Mittenprints (that Midland map on Live Oak’s wall and a ton of other Michigan inspired goodies) and Wildflower Trust (a faith-based apparel and accessories company that donates 50% of its proceeds to charity).
    Another challenge is simply awareness but the small business community in Midland and Mid-town, in particular, is so supportive. Word-of-mouth business has been fruitful. She said to me “Nobody goes into small business because they feel indifferent. They do it because it’s their heart and soul. They put everything into it.” That is what Annie does and she wants to help her clients, she loves hearing the passion people have for their businesses and that she can help them look professional in a way they could not do on their own.
    Annie is special person; her passion and talent radiate from her. Annie would love to be part of your small businesses' creative process.
Instagram Facebook
Annie Stout, Graphic Artist
Paper Heart Design
989.600.2104 | paperheartdesign@gmail.com

Article written by: Joslyn Chulski

Monday, April 30, 2018

Smith's Flowers and Gifts



"You are so involved with families, it's almost like an extension of your own."

    "Trial and failure is a presence in any small business, but if you learn a lesson, it's worth it."

-Mark Smith

Mark Smith could have talked for days about his family's passion and history. He exuded joy and looked off pensively as he recounted stories of Smith's Flowers' (almost) 70 year history. He discussed how fortunate they are to touch people's lives at a time when they need love, joy and uplifting. "You are so involved with families, it's almost like an extension of your own." "We are involved in all the important aspects of peoples lives - all celebrations: births, weddings and funerals (celebrations of life)." The Smiths feel blessed that people have allowed them this honor. This is something small businesses offer that their big box competitors simply cannot match.

It all began with Rolland Smith who worked at the Ford Plant in Detroit. Rolland had a passion for growing. In fact, he would sell his delphiniums to flower shops down river. Rolland's mother lived in Midland, where the family decided to open up shop. In May of 1948, Smith's Flowers was born in a building just behind their current location. Mark said he remembers his dad, Donald, telling him they would just play cards that first summer because they had not much else to do yet.
Mark literally grew up in this building. His dad was 18 when they moved up to Midland. Rolland still worked at Ford and came up to Midland on the weekends, so his Dad and Grandma mainly ran the shop. Mark remarked that his Grandma went to floral design school, but he never once saw her design. When I asked what she did he said, "she was the buyer and (through a chuckle) the heavy hand."
Smith's was the second flower shop in town, behind Lapelle's which was part of a funeral home at the time. It was the tragic plane crash in 1949 which took the lives of Willard H. Dow, his wife and three others, that brought Smith's Flowers into the fold. The Dow family became good customers from then on. One day while visiting Alden Dow's Post Street home, Alden said to Rolland and Donald Smith, "someday I'm going to design you a building", and that he did. The building they still occupy today was opened to the pubic in May 1956, one week before Mother's Day.

The building is nearly the same today as it was then, with a few exceptions. The wall color is no longer original and the bright green carpet was originally pea gravel, which did not mix well with the typical lady's fashion of the time. The mid-century modern façade hints at the building's style and once you enter, it does not disappoint. It's as if the building is somehow bigger inside. If you enter the Ashman Street side, you see the unique staircase and hear the serene babbling fountain which sits inside of a koi pond. Contrasts of curved lines and straight edges make you appreciate the conventions of architecture mixed with nature, which was Dow's signature. A business building cannot commune with nature amid a concrete exterior, but when that business is nature, it brings what is normally outside, in.
Before the bigger box merchants entered the scene, Smith's was also a small department store carrying high-end goods such as cookware, linens, towels, diamonds, gold, jewelry, and collectibles. They also carried German stereo equipment and were the first Sony dealership in Michigan. Today, they are proud to carry unique gifts from local artists and business owners on consignment in "The Circle Gallery". They also carry gifts for any occasion: dream catchers, picture frames, vases, stuffed animals, baby gifts, candles, art, table décor, serving trays, blown glass, original art and signs. For those of you with a brown thumb, they even have artificial flowers and plants.

What sets them apart? They try to be the best. Mark initially joked "arrogance", but thought about it and retracted the joke. "Every small business owner needs some arrogance to fight the fight." They are the oldest family owned flower business in town. In fact, they have been a training ground for some of their counterparts. Smith's strives to say 'yes', to go out of their way to make the customer happy, even if they don't make a good market rate. "If we can solve their problem, we will at least attempt to do it."

Challenges? Mark didn't hesitate to say 'family'. This is a holiday industry, so there are 3-week stretches where they don't see family around the holidays. During Valentines they didn't leave the shop for 3 days straight. Not only does Mark recall that his dad was, always at work, he was the same. He has been slowly passing the reins to his daughters, stating he will never be too far away. He remarked that his daughters are really good floral designers and really great people. All in the family, 88-year-old Donald still helps during busy seasons.
Like most small businesses, the Smiths must wear multiple hats at the same time: design, plan, inventory and tech. They cannot compete on price with the big box stores, but they can compete when it comes to quality. People will call to price check, but they aren't asking the real questions when it comes to quality, like how the flowers are processed and stored. "People think a flower is a flower and it's not," said Mark, "that is like saying hamburger and filet mignon are the same." "We pay a lot of attention" Mark posited, "when your name's on the building, maybe you pay more attention to every aspect."

When pondering his competitors, he had this to say: "we are seven businesses doing the same thing seven different way, we have our favorite flowers, our favorite styles."
I asked Mark what his favorite flower was, perhaps my most difficult question. He could have given me a list. He conceded that 5+ years ago it was a Gerbera Daisy and that was kind of the theme flower for the shop. Currently, number one on his list is the hydrangea because it's unique.
Mark is also an orchid collector. I couldn't help but ask if they are difficult and delicate. No!(This brown thumbed writer is thrilled.) He once told a customer with an orchid she was 'killing it with kindness' and she shouldn't water it so much. He even used to have an orchid in the bathroom that he didn't water for three years (don't misunderstand, it got plenty of moisture in there).
Mark's absolute favorite part of the business, "the way I've changed, or maybe, the way the business has changed me." "Trial and failure is a presence in any small business, but if you learn a lesson, it's worth it." Mark used to avoid customers. He could hide in the back with his flowers. Over the last 10-15 years teaching his daughters morphed into teaching his customers and has become his favorite thing to do. He also enjoys teaching and sharing with garden clubs, walk-ins, kindergarten classes and girl scout troops. He used to kind of feel like if he shared secrets, he was giving up control, but learned that teaching is a way to share joy. The only way to impart this love into other people and keep the passion going is to share it with them.
A theme that carried through Smith's long history and perhaps contributed to it, is their ability to adapt to changing times while maintaining a respect for the past. They cannot count on 300 Easter corsages like they once could, only 3 this year. They dabbled in coffee and were successful but they were a bit ahead of the current coffee boom. They didn't have a drive up window and eventually they realized they should just focus on flowers. Once catering to the upper echelons with their department store appeal and clientele, Smith's is working on outgrowing a reputation for being the most expensive in town. Being floral focused is one of the ways they are working to continually change that perception. The last 10 years the gift industry has changed so much that dabbling no longer serves the business well and so Mark and family have focused on the flowers and plants and things that go with them.
He couldn't really pin down a favorite event they have been involved with and was sensitive to client privacy, but he did share that his favorite was just being involved with the Midland families for so long; their longest standing event is the Dow Stockholder Meeting, 69 years now.
Smith's is Midland, Michigan's "oldest, yet most progressive", full service, family owned and operated florist. They deliver daily to all Midland, Sanford, Freeland and Auburn, Michigan, including the Dow Chemical Global Headquarters and corporate offices, including BBC and plant locations. Smith's takes great pride in providing the highest quality fresh products available, and service beyond compare.
If you aren't already part of Smith's extended family, it's never too late!
Smith's flowers turns 70 in May! Help them celebrate and tell them we sent you!
Visit Smith's at 2909 Ashman Street. Monday- Friday 8:00am - 5:30pm
Saturday 9:00am - 1:00pm
(989) 631-0470
Article and Photography by Joslyn Chulski