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GTPulse: The Woods of Mancelona

When Kevin and Lori Wood moved from San Diego, California to Mancelona, Michigan they had a few goals. One was to open a restaurant in the East State Street building downtown they had purchased. The other was finding ways to support their new community.

“Lori got herself on the Downtown Development Authority so she could help with the community and put ideas forth,” Kevin said. “I got on the Mancelona Village Zoning Committee. We go to all the different meetings all the time. Not only do we live here but we have a business here so we work well with all of the downtown businesses. Everyone’s on the same focus of lifting Mancelona up.”

Kevin and Lori are the proud parents of five sons. All grown and in their 20s, the large family moved from California three years ago.

Lori’s brother lives in Lakes of the North in Gaylord. When her family would come to visit, they’d always pass through Mancelona on their way.

“The town to us looked like a tiny little Disneyland village. The railroad tracks, the little quarter park, we thought this is the cutest place in the world! And it was all closed down,” Lori said.

In particular, they were interested in a mixed-use building on E. State Street in Mancelona’s downtown. The building was built in 1890 and includes a commercial storefront, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house in the back, and a large gallery space and studio apartment upstairs. When it went up for sale Kevin and Lori bought it on the phone after a virtual walkthrough. It was the perfect place to work and live.

“Our sons are in the house, Kevin and I are upstairs in this beautiful apartment. Honestly, it’s a dream come true for me,” Lori said. “I have all my boys here.”

“She’s actually always dreamed of living above the place she worked. It is kind of like a little dream,” Kevin said.

The dream of living above her own store became a reality, but the restaurant didn’t. The septic tank in the building was too old to be fit for a food service license. They would have to put $20,000 into buying a new one and weren’t prepared. But they also didn’t want to leave the storefront empty.

“We did not want another empty storefront in Mancelona, we had to open something,” Lori said.

“We raised five boys who have always loved games. So we decided to open up a board game store,” said Kevin.

The game shop is called The Woods of Mancelona and began as a place for people to rent board games. They have a selection of over 400, including hard-to-find vintage games. Initially business was slow. On a quiet afternoon, an inquisitive school-aged girl came in.

“The sweetest girl Bre came in one day,” Lori said. “I asked her how she liked Mancelona and she said, ‘Well I like it but I don’t like how people make fun of it.’ So I wanted to put some positive things about Mancelona on the airwaves.”

Lori created Mancelona’s go-to community Facebook page Mancelona NOW, where she does just that. I wrote about Bre a couple of years ago when she started doing short community news clips covering fun stuff happening in Mancelona. She’s upbeat, sweet, and loves her hometown. Bre the Kid Reporter became an anticipated staple on the Mancelona NOW page. The page has become a digital hub for the small town with news on all of their local happenings. Lori is a gracious and positive admin, keeping the page’s content focused on the good that comes out of the town.

The game store became another force for good in town and began to gain popularity with kids, weekenders, and folks from the senior home. They enjoyed coming in and sitting down to a game or taking one home to play with the family over the weekend. The shop also had a vintage game display that people of all ages enjoyed looking at. Currently, the store is closed while they pivot their business plans again. They’re working on converting their games to framed shadowboxes that will be able to be played and displayed in the shop.

A silver lining of the pandemic was their five sons coming home. All of them work in the culinary field and had planned on working in their parents’ restaurant. They moved back to California after those plans fell through but returned to Mancelona when the pandemic wiped out a large chunk of the hospitality business. Mom and dad aren’t complaining.

“They went ahead and bought themselves a food trailer. They’re putting together their business plans to open up here in a couple of months. So it’s come full circle,” Kevin said.

They’re looking forward to the food truck and opening up shop again, as well as continuing to help Mancelona flourish.

“We fell in love with Mancelona and even though we’ve only been here three years we’ve seen it grow immensely in just that short amount of time.”

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