Category Archives: Business

Benches for Seattle Brewery Cut from Vicksburg Trees

By Jef Rietsma

The company spearheading redevelopment of the former Simpson Lee Paper Mill in Vicksburg have plans for the project’s first phase to include a brew pub.

Old Stove Brewing Co. currently has two locations in the Seattle area; the Vicksburg site will be its first operation outside the state of Washington. It is owned by Vicksburg native and Seattle resident Chris Moore, who also owns Paper City Development. Paper City is behind redevelopment of the project, simply called, “The Mill.”

As he has at the two Seattle locations, Moore plans to subtly incorporate a part of Vicksburg into the local Old Stove brewpub.

Greg Bjarko, an architect who works with Moore, said the tables and bench seats at the Old Stove locations in Seattle are made from wood harvested on Moore’s family property just outside Vicksburg.

It was a process that started more than four years ago, when the trees on Moore’s father’s property on VW Avenue and Moore’s property on 24th Street – just south of town – were cut. They were warehoused in the Mill for curing until the first portion was shipped to Seattle in 2016 for use in the first Old Stove brewery. The remaining 40 tons or so was loaded for shipment to Seattle in May 2017 for the opening of the second brew pub. Once in Seattle, a portion of the 40-ton load of wood was fashioned into the tables and chairs used by Old Stove patrons today.

“Chris was really excited to repurpose this lumber into what would turn out to be an artistic style of tables and benches … that connection to Kalamazoo County and Vicksburg is important to Chris,” he said. “And they turned out very nice.”

Bjarko said a pattern was used to maintain a uniform design, but no two tables and benches are exactly the same.

“The wood was harvested and rough milled in Vicksburg, where it did a lot of its drying,” he said. “It was fabricated here, then cleaned, sanded and the finish put on, and connected to bases and supports here.”

A team of four area men, including John Kern and Richard Barnes, were on hand the day in 2016 when the trees were eventually loaded onto a flatbed trailer. Once in Seattle, a portion of the 40-ton load of wood was fabricated into the tables and chairs used by Old Stove patrons today.

The wood pieces are nearly three inches thick and range from four to 16 feet in length. By design, the tables and benches are set up to create a communal seating arrangement at Old Stove. An average table can seat 8 to 12 people.

Kern said the wood includes white and red oak, cherry and quite a bit of walnut.

Kern added he is not surprised Moore went to the extreme that he did to incorporate family timber into Old Stove.

“Chris may live in Seattle but he is a Michigan guy through and through, he’s very proud of where he’s from,” Kern said. “The tables and benches may not mean as much to the people at the restaurant, but I know they represent a special connection to home for Chris.”

Tad Dallas and Louis Armstrong work for Moore, and were the muscle behind building the tables and benches.

Dallas said he is proud to have had a hand in such an integral component to Old Stove. He said what would eventually be the final product, however, took some time and effort.

“We met with Chris at the workshop and we had some really nice slabs of walnut. I remember we flipped the slabs in multiple directions, end-over-end, and we were kind of all over the place,” Dallas said. “We came up with a design that included an old steel plate that serves as the inlay piece, so what we had in the end was something that I’d say actually designed itself.”

Dallas said there is still quite a bit of wood left, though he’s not sure if the tables and benches for the Vicksburg Old Stove will be designed in Seattle then sent back to Michigan, or if the wood will be returned to Vicksburg and the furniture created here.

Bob Millard Has Fond Memories of The Mill

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Bob Millard, former mill manager in the 1970s, returned to tour the mill last summer. Village Manager Jim Mallery accompanied him as did several other community members. Asbestos has been removed from this area which was part of the dryers for the paper.

By Jef Rietsma

Editor’s note: We plan to feature people who worked at the mill in various capacities to provide some historical perspective to the potential redevelopment of the mill.

The tone in Bob Millard’s voice was unmistakably melancholic as he reflected on his 13-year stint at the former Simpson Lee Paper Mill that covered a portion of the ’60s and ‘70s.

Even after a series of promotions took him to San Francisco for another 20 years with the company, Millard said he always had a soft spot for the Vicksburg plant.

“I may have worked there during what were very likely its best years,” Millard said. “I started out in the customer-service department after having five years of experience in the paper-distribution business, worked up to middle management and eventually became mill manager for eight years.”

He said just about anyone who worked at the mill, regardless of in what capacity, will talk fondly today about what Simpson Lee Paper meant to Vicksburg and the region. Millard said through the balance of its 100-plus years, the plant was a community within a community.

“So many of the employees were local, either from right in Vicksburg or just on the fringe of Vicksburg, and so many were descendants of their parents who also worked there,” he said. “It had an impressive ethnicity … a strong Polish contingent who, along with people from all backgrounds, were the second-generation group of mill workers. It was just a very, very interesting place to work.”

Millard said its people were a significant component of the company’s strength. But it would be unfair to overlook the quality of paper the Vicksburg site produced.

He said the array of specialty papers set it apart from the 11 other mills within the company and among Simpson’s competitors. Its quality products filled a niche in a way no other mill could, he said.

“It was unique across the breadth of high-end paper,” Millard said.

Millard was part of a group that toured the 30-acre property last fall, around the time plans to convert the mill site into a multi-use parcel were being completed. Vicksburg-native Chris Moore is the owner of Paper City Development LLC and behind the project called, simply, The Mill.

The first phase of redevelopment includes a brewpub.

Moore owns Old Stove Brewing Co. in Seattle.

Millard said it was a treat to be able to walk the grounds and peer inside the buildings still standing, 15 years after the plant closed.

“It was kind of like stepping back in time …you think you see a lot of ghosts,” Millard said, recalling the tour. “I’ve seen the plans Chris has put together, I like the idea of the mill getting a second life. I just wish the project was moving faster because I’d like to be around to see the ground-breaking, at least.”

Millard, 86, returned to Michigan 20 years ago and lives on Gull Lake. He still meets monthly for breakfast with a number of retired mill employees, a gathering that features its share of reminiscing, he said.

Pausing to reflect, Millard shared a final anecdote about his time with the Vicksburg plant.

“My first boss was my kindergarten teacher’s husband … totally unrelated to me getting the job, of course,” said Millard, who grew up in the Grand Rapids-area community of Ravenna. “But thinking back to working there, no question whether you were hourly or salaried, it was a good place to work. Very fair in all aspects of the way they did business, whether it was with their customers or their employees. A real classy place.”

Next month’s issue will feature a profile of Jack Page.

Hovenkamp Transforms Brady Township Corner Property

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These buildings on the corner of Sprinkle Road and TU Avenue have undergone a dramatic transformation. A convenience store will be opening soon in the front portion of this building.

By Sue Moore

A commercial development transformation has taken place at the corner of Sprinkle Road and TU Avenue in Brady Township. Ken Hovenkamp purchased the derelict property as a personal storage place, then realized the collection of buildings was such an eyesore that he undertook to pretty it up.

The property is a cornerstone to a small commercial district that Brady Township designated in a five-year land use plan for business development. “It’s the entrance to the township along Sprinkle Road. I’ve worked with the township officials who have been very supportive. I’ve also reached out to the village of Vicksburg for ideas on possible leases,” Hovenkamp said.

The fire-engine red color scheme on the exterior was proposed by designer Lynn Russcher. She showed him drawings of yellow, green and red exteriors. Without hesitation, he chose the red, which motorists passing by on Sprinkle Road are not likely to miss.

The interiors and exteriors have been painted, cleaned and ready to be unveiled for potential lease options, Hovenkamp pointed out. There is 10,000 square feet of space, with 7,000 of it climate-controlled.

What used to be a convenience store has been refurbished to again house this type of operation. Also in the front of the building is an area that would be ripe for a resale type of store, Hovenkamp said. It then opens up to a quonset hut that once housed a gas station owned by Purcell Clark. “This would be ideal for storage or use as part of a resale shop. It’s actually very trendy right now.”

Along the south side of the building, stretching back to the west is a huge area that could function as a service area for vehicles of any type, a warehouse or even an upholstery shop, Hovenkamp speculates. “There are just so many possibilities and I don’t want to discount any idea that might come along.”

Plans are underway to resurface the parking lot before any of the buildings are leased. A large barn sits at the edge of the property with three overhead doors that also present possibilities.

One corner of the barn is set aside for a furniture exchange that Hovenkamp operates as part of his Chaplain ministry with the Portage Fire and Police Departments. He has made space for donations of appliances, TVs, and furniture for needy families and expects to give them to people he meets through the ministry.

New Dental Building for Vicksburg on W. Prairie Street

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Left to right: Jody Cole, Lori Barnes, Dr. Aaron Ford, Mary Ann Koenigsknect, Heidi Thompson, Brenda Schimp, Kris Swope, Linda Mason, and Kris McGlothlen. Employees missing from the photo: Jen Notziger, Jaime Wiard, Dana Kurtz, Diane Bugajski .

By Sue Moore

His patients and his patience are the keys to why Dr. Aaron Ford’s dentistry practice in Vicksburg has doubled in the last seven years, said office manager Kris Zonyk McGlothlen. “He is so accommodating to patients. Takes his time with everybody.”

“My assistants do a really good job,” Dr. Ford acknowledges. “They help patients feel comfortable. My challenge is to have them say when they leave, ‘Well, that wasn’t so bad.’”

To accommodate this patient growth, Dr. Ford started to think about remodeling his office at 602 W. Prairie Street in Vicksburg. What followed was inspired by knowing that Dr. Bob Dornbos, the other Vicksburg dentist, was looking to retire. “I thought, why not combine the two practices and make one nice practice for this area? I made him an offer to buy him out and in the process we will have a really cool new building that even someday might serve to attract more professionals to the community.”

For the next six months, both dentists’ patients are being seen at Dr. Dornbos’ office on 102 S. Main Street in Vicksburg while the new building is under construction. It will have seven rooms, instead of the previous four, expanding from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet. Four operative and three hygiene rooms are planned. Walt Hansen, general contractor in charge of the project, has constructed over 50 dental offices. Hanson knows what works for dentists and what doesn’t with the flow of patients. The exterior will have fieldstone on the base and vinyl shakes for siding. It is expected to be completed in January.

Dr. Ford came to Vicksburg as an assistant to Dr. Mike Carl who had purchased Dr. Jim McClelland’s practice 10 years ago. Dr. Carl also had a practice in Mendon and needed to give that his full-time attention. He offered the Vicksburg opportunity to Ford, a Texas Corners resident. His wife, Maureen, is an emergency room physician at Bronson Hospital employed by Southwest Michigan Emergency Services. They have three children, ages 11, 8 and 5. She serves on the Mattawan school board.

He grew up in Sturgis, graduating in 1995. Ford is a Western Michigan University graduate who participated in Army ROTC for four years. He earned a hitch with a dentist who was assigned to Kuwait in 2000. “I preferred the interaction with patients and wanted to get more involved in the clinical side of dentistry, so upon discharge enrolled in the University of Michigan’s dental school.”

“Much has changed in dentistry, just in the last 10 years that I have been in practice,” he said. “The first item I purchased here was a digital X-ray machine so I didn’t have to do wet developing of pictures. We don’t see crowns breaking like they used to. We have lab-fabricated crowns and bridges and the materials are harder and more reliable. Gold is nice, it lasts a long time; but zirconia crowns are white and more aesthetically pleasing than gold and last just as long as any other crown. Needles are sharper and don’t poke so hard.”

He has combined the two doctor’s staff and kept all of them on board with10 full timers, including three assistants, four hygienists and two office managers. They are accepting new patients in the combined practice. “We are thrilled that he took us all on,” said Lori Barnes, Dr. Dornbos’ dental assistant. “He takes his time with everybody. It’s just his special personality.”

“I liked Vicksburg from the beginning. It’s a great spot between Chicago and Detroit, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. I’m looking forward to a long future in Vicksburg and providing high-quality dentistry,” Dr. Ford said.

Serious Management Commitment at Main Street Pub

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Kitchen manager Dustin Marshall and two servers – Jodi Sanford and Stephanie Phillips.

By Sheryl Oswalt

My motto for this month will be, “Don’t believe everything you read.” I’ll be honest and say that I have put off reviewing the Main Street Pub because of the poor reviews I’ve read on-line and rumors of continual staff changes. From what I experienced, that’s old news. Not only does it have a new logo and a fresh coat of paint, it has a new staff prepared to make the restaurant the “go to” place for families in Vicksburg. The family-owned and operated Housler restaurant group started in Kalamazoo in 1989 and has grown to 12 locations in Michigan and Indiana. It made 208 E Prairie Street in Vicksburg part of the family of restaurants on March 27, 1990.

It sounds to me that the reason it has experienced change and turnover is because of a serious commitment to making this location successful. I think this time it has a winning combination. I met with the new manager, John Mazur-Baker and kitchen manager Dustin Marshall. John has only been at the Vicksburg location for a month, but his commitment is clear. He’s purchased a home and moved his family to Vicksburg. This is serious business; failure is not an option. Dustin lives locally and has been here for 6 months. He’s noticeably passionate about food and is very excited about participating in upcoming events in Vicksburg such as the Taste of Vicksburg.

Following a “Golden Rule” of meeting three new friends every day, you will find the staff all very friendly and attentive. During our interview, John couldn’t help himself and was jumping up when patrons came in to greet them and get beverages immediately. John has not only jumped into his new position; he’s also joined the local fire department.

In interviewing our local eating establishments, I have yet to find one that doesn’t do a great job of giving back and recognizing the value of community. What Main Street does is special–it offers a 10 percent discount to all Local Heroes. That includes those serving in the military, veterans, police, EMS and firefighters. Word has it that on Thursday nights (half price nacho night) you might just find our local South County firefighters there. In addition to the Local Hero discount, the restaurant offers a free brownie sundae to any youth in a sports jersey.

Since Dustin has been on staff, the restaurant has participated in the chili cook off and hosted an Easter egg hunt. For the upcoming car show on June 11, it’s opening early and putting on additional staff to serve you. Dustin is planning a special breakfast menu to start serving up at 9 a.m. You’ll find it offers four daily lunch specials and four dinner specials with one of each remaining consistent; for example, one of Thursday’s specials will always be Thanksgiving dinner. While the menu is very extensive and consistent throughout the chain, Housler is very flexible in allowing the cooks to experiment and personalize their own house specials in addition to the standard Main Street fare. Dustin is what I would call “home-schooled”. He proudly indicated that most of what he knew and loved about cooking he learned from his mother. He whipped me up an outstanding wet burrito, one of their best sellers. I think I was all surprised to hear that his homemade sloppy joes are also very popular. Other popular items are the ranch fritter wrap, gourmet mac and cheese and grilled steak kabobs made with sirloin steak. Whether you’re looking for a burger, salad, sandwich or even meatloaf, the restaurant has something for everyone. I’m currently working my way through the wrap menu.

Don’t forget that Main Street Pub also has a banquet room available for special events for up to 150 people. That room is available for use at no charge with the purchase of food and beverages from the restaurant. I would say with certainty that the restaurant has the largest dining facility in Vicksburg. Whether you prefer the seating of a conventional family style restaurant or are looking for drinks at the bar or patio, Main Street Pub has something for everyone. Check it out!

Eimo Corporation Receives Impact Award

Michigan Works! Southwest
Paul Cooley, an Eimo process engineer, is directly to the left of Gary Hallam holding the citation. Brenda Harrington, Eimo’s HR manager, is second from the right. State Senator Margaret O’Brien is in red and state Rep. Brandt Iden is in the bow tie.

Vicksburg’s Eimo Corp. was among 24 Michigan companies recognized for their commitment to create “more and better jobs in communities across the state.” The ceremony was sponsored by Michigan Works! with nearly 150 people attending in Lansing, including many state representatives.

“With employers like Eimo Technologies, Michigan’s future couldn’t be brighter!” said State Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Oshtemo.

A citation was read from Governor Rick Snyder: “On behalf of the state of Michigan, I would like to thank you for your dedicated service and congratulate this year’s deserving honorees. I am confident that your continued efforts to build a skilled and adaptable workforce in Michigan will positively impact our state for years to come.”

“The achievements honored through this year’s awards demonstrate what’s best about Michigan. Innovation, hard work, and a can-do spirit are the hallmarks of our state and its people – and the characteristics of each of this year’s honorees,” said Michigan Works! Chairperson Charlotte Mahoney.

Eimo was cited by the state for using Skilled Trades Training Fund money to provide “scientific injection molding” training to train 29 current workers and on-the-job training for 47 new employees, and for investing $8.8 million in the construction of a new production facility in Vicksburg which will create 50 new jobs.

Eimo continues to place a high value on our “Strengthen Our Workforce” initiative, said Gary Hallam, general manager of Eimo. “As one example, we held a Quality Leadership session attended by over 100 key Eimo people on Saturday, April 23 at Vicksburg High School. Lessons of the day included the importance of winning and success in the workplace, the power of positive energy, and making Eimo the best place to work. Eimo also donated an injection molding machine and EDM machine to Vicksburg High School for the Computer Aided Manufacturing class. Investing in young people by creating internships and promoting manufacturing as a career through partnerships with local educational entities such as VHS and KRESA is another important Eimo initiative.”

Eimo Celebrates Plant Opening

By Sue Moore

It was a major event last week at the new Eimo East plant on W. Prairie Street. Dignitaries, managers, workers, all converged upon the shiny manufacturing plant in the Leja Industrial Park to congratulate each other on getting a 70,000-square-foot building completed and fully operational in seven months.

The emphasis was on the teamwork that it took to accomplish this Herculean feat, according to Gary Hallam, general manager of Eimo One. He served as master of ceremonies as a parade of dignitaries stepped to the podium to congratulate the company.
The company produces decorative and precision plastic injection molding.

Hallam pointed out the state-of-the-art new molding machines and the fully functioning plant that didn’t exist seven months ago. Junya Suzuki, president and CEO of Nissha Printing Co., Ltd, the parent company in Japan, praised the employees in the plant for their dedication and hard work. He challenged them to achieve the next target of $200 million in revenue.

Ron Kitchens, CEO of Southwest Michigan First, told the audience of several hundred guests and employees that they’re the CEOs of their own responsibilities. He celebrated the men and women who come to Eimo every day to work. Great companies have great people and are passionate about their great products, he told them.

Bill Adams, Vicksburg village council president, cited a Japanese saying, “Kaizen” meaning change for the better. He believes that his governmental entity at least has adopted that approach, making it as easy as possible for companies like Eimo to expand in the village.

Frederick Construction, headed by Mike Frederick, got the building done on time and on budget. What it took was a team of designers, engineers, and great vision from the customer (Eimo) to make it happen, he said. “We had 150 people involved in the project in the seven months. It got done because these folks bought in to the process.”

Plant Manager Randy Bongard had a lot to do with the success of the project, Hallam said, when he came up with the mantra “Own It”. Bongard challenged every employee to take personal responsibility to make something better. He urged the 300 employees to make a conscious decision to “own it” and act on that every day.

Jim Sertic, former president of Accro-Seal and now a consultant, cited the good culture at Eimo, realizing that the employees try to do the right thing every day. “Results matter. It’s contagious.”

Stryker representatives were invited to the opening because the company is one of Eimo’s biggest and best customers. That company, Whirlpool and General Motors comprise about 90 percent of Eimo’s business.

Eimo East plant employees were singled out for mention by Hallam. They included Rob Bell, with 38 years of employment beginning with Victor Plastics; Steve Busher, who began in 1983 and has only missed one day of work in that time; Jody Crouch, with 28 years of service; and Gary Arndt, a 2014 hire, who has just been appointed quality assurance manager.

Following the speeches, everyone in the three Vicksburg-area Eimo plants was invited to lunch prepared by local restaurants.