GTPulse: East Jordan Depression-Era General Store Shines With New Life

While ripping down walls in their newly purchased East Jordan house Rebecca and Rick Gotts found a bunch of old Kellogg cereal boxes.

“These Kellogg cornflake boxes were flattened out and shoved into the walls to provide insulation, and we found other things that were probably from around 1915. We found laundry soap that was sold for five cents,” said Rebecca.

It was discoveries like these that began to uncover some of the home’s history. As they learned more, they came to find that the home’s story had roots in resilience, community, and had even functioned beyond being a home.

Gunther’s General Store is a piece of East Jordan history that almost didn’t live to tell its tale. Neighbor to an old hardware store, the two buildings were both purchased by the Gotts and had lived many different lives before becoming the beautified pieces of local history that they are today.

Rebecca and Rick are native to Northern Michigan. Rebecca grew up in Benzie County and Rick in East Jordan. Together they opened up The Boathouse on Lake Charlevoix, an event and wedding venue. Though the views and venue were lovely, lodging in East Jordan has always been slim. When two homes across the street from The Boathouse went up for sale, they were both conveniently located and in horrible shape.

“I told my husband that I really didn’t want to buy them. They were the two worst houses in town, but we ended up buying both of them. We got them and thought, ‘Well what can we do with it?’”

The answer was to turn them into vacation rentals. Once they got into the houses they began to see just how old they were. One of the homes was held together with hand-forged nails made by a blacksmith, indicating that the home was constructed sometime in the 1800s. The pair had never seen a house like it before and began to seek out more information.

“We found an old map that showed that one of them used to be a farm implement store. We found an old door in the other one that had been walled in. We took it out thinking we could repurpose it somehow. When we were looking at it in a different light we realize there were letters on it that had been painted over. The paint around them was bubbling up and we realized it said Tin Shop and Stove.” 

Rebecca wanted to know more. When she started asking questions she was directed to Elaine Dvoracek, a woman in her 90s who had grown up in the general store during the Depression.

“We tracked her down by first going to the senior center because if anyone knows anything they’ll be at the senior center. My daughter and I ate lunch there and through all of those people telling us stories we found this woman.”

Elaine’s maiden name was Gunther, and her mother had owned the store in the 1930s. It was just the two of them, and Elaine expressed her gratitude towards her mother when recounting those Depression-era days to Rebecca.

“She was just really proud of her mom for providing enough food and things to survive on during the Depression. The two biggest sellers were saltine crackers and bologna because at the time people grew their own vegetables.”

Elaine’s vivid memories were touching and functioned as the inspiration and guide for Rebecca’s vision to restore the home with the general store nostalgia that meant so much to Elaine. Through old photographs and descriptions, Rebecca and Rick took out everything that had made the house a home and turned it back into the general store from times’ past.

“In the back storage room where she, her sister and her mom lived, we made it into a king bed and a clawfoot tub and shower in it. In the front we tried to make it look as much as possible like it used to be, but also put a couch and old cedar chest with a TV inside of it.”

The store, named Gunther’s Cottage after Elaine’s maiden name, is rentable on Airbnb along with its neighboring former hardware store, Goodman Cottage. Both are praised by all who stay as guests. Not only have the Gotts added a unique and historic lodging option to East Jordan, they’ve also put a lot of heart and a little more beauty into the community that they’re proud to call home.

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Categories: GTPulse