Hometown Tourist: Leland’s Historic Fishtown

This week on Hometown Tourist we take a blast to the past at Leland’s Fishtown. Over 100 years ago, these docks were the heart of Michigan commercial fishing.

“Everything you see here, was originally a part of the fishing industry.”

Amanda Holmes is Executive Director of Fishtown Preservation Society, a non-profit that keeps the shanty town in tip-top ship-shape.

“And if you have a building that’s no longer being used as a fishing building, what happens? It either needs to have something else in it or it threatens falling down.”

So what do you do with a bunch of cool, old fishing shanties on a river? Renovate and launch a historic retail village!

There are twelve businesses in Fishtown, ranging from a hat store to a candy shop. Our first stop is Tug Stuff, the place that turned a historic boat into a Leland logo.

The tug’s name is Janice Sue, built in 1958 here in Fishtown. Tug Stuff Co-Owner Malcolm Chatfield designed a logo after the tug boat. 

“Yeah I used to work on it actually in the late 60s.”

And here’s the kicker, Janice Sue isn’t just a boat.

“This boat just had a birthday about 7 or 8 years ago and the boat turned 50. It wasn’t that old.” Malcolm explained. “And the original Janice Sue, the lady who lives in Suttons Bay came over to the party.”

Now the legendary Janice Sue lives on in the river, in town, and even your t-shirt.  

Our next stop, Sporck Tile Art.

“This is one of my first ones.” Tileman Lief Sporck points to a morel-designed tile. He’s been making tile art since 2002. 

“The mold is handmade and I do them in batches of ten usually. So I’ll press ten of them which takes several days. and then I paint them all in different ways.”

And shanty stop three, Carlson’s Fishery. It’s been a Fishtown staple for over a century.

“The Carlson family’s been pretty fortunate that it’s continued on generation after generation, there’s just been somebody there to kind of continue that,” Co-Owner Joe Campo told us. 

The Carlson crew rings in nets from all over the state, then hauls them back to the shanty for trimming.

But every day of the week, there’s only one big bite to end your Fishtown visit—and that’s at the Village Cheese Shanty. They’re known for their sandwiches, especially their unbeatable homemade pretzel bread. I ordered the Northshore, that’s turkey, bacon, cucumbers, lettuce and tomato with herb-mayo.  I’ve never ordered anything else and I don’t see it happening anytime soon, either. 

When your brown bag is ready, be prepared for a sandwich larger than your head. Just kick back, soak in some rays on the river and take on Fishtown one bite at a time.