I.G. Shorter (Homer's son) and his wife, Johanna Bosma, both born and raised in Emmet County, also did not lack entrepreneurship. That spirit took them to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where they tried their hands at harvesting crops, crate manufacturing, buying their own timber, and running a lumber company before heading back to Emmet County.
Carl Shorter, son of Johanna and I.G., was born in Steamboat Springs, CO in 1913.
Carl Shorter, Homer’s grandson and my grandpa, attended school at Pellston High School, in Pellston, Michigan. When he was a senior, a girl named Ruth transferred to Pellston after the Levering High School was closed, and it was then that Carl and Ruth met. Carl was the class president and a basketball player. He also worked at the pharmacy in town. Carl courted Ruth by walking to Levering from his home in Pellston. He would fill his pockets with treats for Ruth’s younger siblings. One time, they broke up and the siblings refused to talk to Ruth until she started dating Carl again!
In order to obtain the marriage license, Carl had to take his younger brother with him to Cheboygan County on November 1, 1934. It was Ruth’s 18th birthday and the license was his gift to her. He had to bribe his brother with a candy bar to keep quiet! They married on February 17, 1935. However, they kept their marriage a secret from everyone for several months as they were both working. You see, it was the Great Depression and only one job was allowed per couple. Once they had announced their marriage they moved to Petoskey in 1935.
Carl started as a Pharmacist’s Apprentice and then was a very successful manager of Teysen’s Gift Shops in Mackinaw City in the summer seasons of 1940, ‘41, and ‘42. Even though the country was still in the Great Depression, Carl was able to double the sales of Teysen’s Gift Shop! There were satellite locations of Teysen’s around Mackinaw City and Carl was in charge of them all. There was even a gift shop inside the Fort, and Carl was known to find authentic arrowheads on a farm that bordered the Fort. Harry Teysen was a demanding boss, but Carl learned a great deal about the souvenir and gift industry during his tenure there.
Carl started making plans to open a souvenir store in downtown Petoskey’s Gaslight District. He worked the winter of 1946 as an accountant for an oil company and spent his weekends making trips along the Tunnel of Trees in Harbor Springs to Cross Village to purchase Indian crafts. On the Friday of Memorial Day weekend in 1946, with $1500 Carl and Ruth had borrowed, they were able to pursue their dream and opened the beloved store Shorter’s Indian Craft Shop, now known as Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts.
She wrote, “My first knowledge of Ignace Petoskey [the man after whom Petoskey is named] was when a child of eight, I loved to spend my pennies for candy at the store of Bazil, one of the older sons of Ignace because I was more than apt to find the old Chief sitting by the big stove in the center of the store with his hands on top of his cane held straight up in front of him...As to the character of Chief Ignace of Petoskey, may I relate a story that is entirely personal? My father, J. A. C. Rowan, had a great deal of respect for Ignace. All the water the village people had to drink had to be carried from a big spring under the hill opposite the Chippewa Hotel. Bazil Petoskey’s store was on the corner of Lake and Petoskey streets where the Barney Linen shop is located. When father climbed the steep hill by the dirt road on Petoskey street to bring the water up in two pails swinging from a neck yoke, he usually stopped to rest at the top and to chat with Bazil and his father at the little store.”
In 1950, the shop acquired more space in the building and more than doubled in size. Two years later the Petoskey Evening News reported that “Shorter’s Indian Craft Shop, here seven years, is one of the few summer businesses that operate solely in this city. Carl Shorter, who spends his winters in Petoskey, employs five persons during the summer. He opens the shop in the latter part of May and closes in early November.” When they closed for the winter, items went on clearance, like the genuine deerskin gloves and mittens that sold anywhere from $1.75 to $5.95.
The Shorter’s franchise continued to expand with another store called The Cameo in 1974. Antiques rounded out an already varied selection of merchandise. The Cameo was down the street at 311 E. Lake Street, the site of the present-day J.W. Shorter & Son Mercantile. Grandpa bought the building because he was renting the building where Shorter’s Indian Craft Shop was located. He worried that he would have to move his business if the lease was not renewed. Thankfully, they had the opportunity to buy the building on the corner. Once they were finished with the antique business, they became landlords themselves with the 311 E. Lake Street building.
He held in-store events with Native American artists and stamped their art with “Ottawa Indian Made”. He used moccasin and deerskin glove catalogs as bag stuffers. Before the use of computers, he kept information on his customers for use in direct mail campaigns. He would take mail and phone orders and ship merchandise around the country. He knew to chase his summer customers! At Christmas, he and Ruth would hold raffle contests for the local customers. Grandpa was very charismatic (must be why he was class president!) and he believed in being on the sales floor chatting with customers. He had patience with children shoppers and his kindness turned them into loyal, lifetime fans of Shorter’s Gifts. Carl’s philosophy was “Any fool can sell it on sale, but it takes a real talent to sell it at full price!”
Grandpa Shorter passed away in 1983. A tribute to Carl, written by Don Ward, from the store Ward & Eis, speaks eloquently to the legacy he left behind.
"Carl's sudden death took from us a gentle-man, who with his wife, Ruth, gave time and talent in a quiet and unassuming way for 37 years, in building Shorter's Gifts into a landmark store. Beginning in 1946, in a space only 8' by 20', they were the very first to be open in the winter. Now over 30 stores follow their lead, assuring that quality merchandise is available for Petoskey shoppers all year long. We will miss you, Carl."
Grandpa's legacy lived on through the generations. My dad, Bill, and my mom, Mari, came in to help out Gram for a few months, and then purchased the business. Bill and Mari continued the traditions of the shop while putting their signature mark on the store. They kept the same product categories that were successful in 1946 but searched for new products to reflect the change in the generations running the store. Mom has always been known for her display talents and beautiful windows enhancing the interior and creating a merchandise mix that carried the store into the future.
The Katydid, which opened in 2018 next door to Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts at 305 E. Lake Street, is the latest venture for our family. Focusing on “cultivated finds from near and far” the store finds reclaimed, recycled, and handcrafted goods crafted by artists, with a heavy focus on Michigan themed items. While the store, from its name, look, and merchandise selections, has been a team effort, the inspiration for the name The Katydid came from my daughter, the fourth-generation Shorter. Kaitlyn had an early childhood nickname of Katy Bug.
What do you remember most about the store and your parents growing up?
I began my tenure at Shorter’s Indian Craft Shop at the early age of five. Each spring at first snow melt my father and I would travel along the Tunnel of Trees lakeshore north of Harbor Springs to purchase items crafted by his American Indian friends. I say friends because of the way he was greeted with handshakes and hugs. My greeting was slightly different with pats on the head from the men and fingers playing with my blond curls from the ladies. I later learned he was a gentleman who was respected for his honesty and fair dealings by the Ottawa who were truly artisans. Upon leaving the Lake Michigan Shoreline at Mackinaw City we would take the ferry across the Straits of Mackinac to the Upper Peninsula. This leg of the adventure would be to pick up hand carved totem poles in 8, 10, and 12 foot lengths from Chippewa artisans. I remember on our return trip there was barely room for me. The 1949 Mercury was filled to capacity with quill work and baskets by the Ottawas and the roof and fenders with roped down Ottawa and Chippewa totem poles from the Upper Peninsula.
Next to the store was an Ice Cream Shop. I used to walk to the store with my dog, Jeff. When I would reach the corner of Howard and Lake Street, I would have the dog sit and stay. Just before turning into the store, I would pat my leg and the dog would start down the street at a run. Once inside the store the dog would show up. I’d always barter with Dad for an ice cream cone to take the dog home and he would give me a knowing smile.
What aspect of running the store did you enjoy most?
In my early days of working at the store I made an agreement with Mom and Dad, who worked 6 days a week from 9:00 AM until 9:00 PM in the summer months. I would work for them for the summer from 12:00-9:00 PM 6 days a week if they would leave the store at 6:00 PM and enjoy their evenings at home. Dad grudgingly accepted my offer, later he told me how much they enjoyed that summer. When my father passed away in 1983, I completely enjoyed the multitude of customers who singled me out with stories about my father. A loyal customer from Harbor Point related when he was a child and shopping with his mother and father how my father was always gracious, made him feel welcome, and always took time to answer his questions. His family still shops at Grandpa Shorter's Gifts.
What are you most particularly proud of when you look back at the time you and Mari ran the business?
After settling into the business and becoming familiar with the sales, Marietta and I began to make changes with the merchandise offered. We closed out numerous items which had poor turn rates and added numerous new items. Next we redid the interior colors and displays to reflect the historical appearance of a generational business. We added numerous nostalgic display items including deer mounts from the 1920’s, antique muzzle loading rifles, and canoes. We were the first store in the business district to research and place a historical plaque on our building reflecting our 1880 historical site's significance.
Did you have retail experience before running Shorter’s?
Yes, I was the oldest of seven children and we were all expected to work. Mom made sure we did and said, “out of the house, not under foot”. I was a clerk in a bakery, Stuckey’s Rexall drug store, and a dress shop (this was when I did my first window displays). Before my retail experience I was a carhop at Powells Drive In, the first girl paperboy in my hometown, and did plenty of babysitting. All summer jobs began at age 12. No summer sleep over camps for us unless it was a paid position!
What aspect of running the business did you enjoy the most?
Market trips, seeing and finding new merchandise that would excite our customers. I would always become excited when something new flew off the shelves and we had to re order. The family dinners contained a lot of bragging rights over which family member found that new hot item. Stiff competition. Market trips were also rejuvenating to the retail weary with new ideas, new merchandise, and the ability to have uninterrupted conversations with my retail partner-Bill.
They were also exhausting and, to the past employees who thought we were on vacation, I would relate the experience to being a chaperone for a Washington D.C. trip with high schoolers. Hours on your feet in museums with thousands of others trying to see everything in a short amount of time and endless lines at the restrooms and the temporary restaurants. Do this for seven straight days, 10 to 12 hours per day.
You are gifted with designing beautiful window displays. Did you have a favorite one? How did you learn merchandising?
I did my first window displays for a dress shop as a teenager. I learned from doing the displays and also observing professional displays at Market. Retail windows can be a challenge. You are always working backwards, start in the front (nearest the glass) and just keep backing up. Not like the dioramas we all did in school.
Bill & Mari
Was it always your plan to recreate the historical look and feel of the business? If not, how and why did it become important to you?
Mari: For me taking the store back to its more historical two story look was always a dream of mine. Frankly, it drove me nuts, I cringed every time I would be outside looking at the length of the block and seeing all the tall stately buildings and the short one story orphan that didn’t measure up.
Bill: After completing the inside of the store we followed Mari’s dream of restoring the building to its original appearance by adding another floor to create the previous false store front. This was a major undertaking by increasing the height of the front windows, adding the additional story, adding period moldings, doors, etc. The exterior paint was returned to reflect the original whitewash of the original building.
How much did you involve the kids when running the business? Any particular fun memories you want to share?
First Holiday Open House for us, we made it a family affair. We all dressed in Victorian shop keeper outfits. Striped shirts and all. The girls served fudge and the boys were greeters. The following years Ryan and his best friend Patrick dressed as elves and handed out candy canes.
Ryan grew into the job of shipping and receiving manager and is credited with instituting the vendor grading system.
Can you describe your feeling of another generation carrying on the family name in business in Petoskey? What does this mean for your family?
Harvard Business School did a study on the success of next generation businesses both large and small. They found only 10% of them made it through the second generation successfully. I’m extremely proud that Marietta and I successfully navigated the second generation and Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts is now in the third generation ownership with Jennifer Shorter at the helm.
I love the love story of my grandparents. It has become the underlying foundation of our family business.
My grandpa, Carl Shorter, was born in Steamboat Springs, Colorado on June 15, 1913. When he was 12, his parents moved the family back to the area and settled in Pellston. There he met Ruth Cooper in 1931, and they became high school sweethearts. They married on February 17, 1935, and spent 48 years happily married before Grandpa passed away in 1983. During those 48 years, they opened Shorter’s Gifts, The Knit N’ Purl, The Holly Harbour Christmas Store, and The Cameo Antique Store, as well as the branch of Shorter’s Gifts in Indian River. My Gram offered lessons in the Knit N’ Purl and taught hundreds of people to knit, crochet, and do various other needlework. Both Gram and Grandpa were avid outdoors people enjoying fishing, boating, snowmobiling, and skiing. They were devoted to their family and dedicated to contributing to the community.
Ryan and I were involved from an early age, helping out in the summers and after school. As a freshman at the University of Michigan, I wrote a book called “Petoskey Stones, More Than Meets the Eye” that we sold in the store, so even when I was away at college, I was contributing. Continuing the family business was important to me, so after college and a brief stint in corporate America, I was back in Petoskey to help out. When J.W. Shorter & Son Mercantile opened, it was the time I knew I was to carry on the tradition of my parents and grandparents before me. Around 2005, my parents retired, and the stores were now in my hands. It was something I always wanted to do, and I was happy with the three stores - Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts, J.W. Shorter & Son Mercantile, and Trapper’s Cabin.
I had my daughter, Kaitlyn, in 2002, kicking off the fourth generation. Fast forward to 2018 when Robert Frost, the store next door to Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts, was leaving, and the opportunity to expand into that space opened up. The decision to grow again and the direction of the store was a team effort but having four stores for four generations felt right.
I learned from the best when it comes to creating products for the store. My dad took the African game Mancala, played 3,500 years ago by the Pharaohs, and gave it a Northern Michigan twist. He created two versions, “Play Fort Michilimackinac - The Game of Arrowheads and Musketballs” and “Play Michigan - The Game of Petoskey Stones.” The Michilimackinac game uses small steel musket balls and stone arrowheads, and the Michigan game uses small Petoskey stone pieces. Dad said that the game was inspired by Grandpa because he was an avid gamer and taught all of “the kids” chess and checkers. He called the line of games “Grandpa’s Games” in his honor too. To make the games even more special, they were created entirely in Northern Michigan, with the maple boards made by a local cabinetmaker, and a half dozen or so additional local craftsmen. Artist Jane Bock illustrated the games’ directions.
Over the years, Grandpa Shorter’s has won many of the Holiday window contests hosted by the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Management Board. An article in the Petoskey News Review from 2012 gives a fun glimpse into what all goes into window decorating:
“Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts, 301 E. Lake St., took the No. 1 pride, best of the show, for the third year in a row.
‘It’s hard to deny them,’ one judge noted. ‘All of the windows in the Shorter stores are just enchanting.’
Upon notification of winning, store owner Jennifer Shorter said, ‘We are so excited to have won the window decorating contest this year! It’s really a group effort here at Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts. And I’m very proud of our team. Everyone helps make items and decorate the windows. One of our high school employees, Rachel Ross, designed the igloo and built it with the help of another one of our high school students, Samantha Young, and the youngest member of our team, Kaitlyn Smith (age 10). We saved styrofoam blocks for over a year in order to build it! Designing and implementing windows is the most fun part of my job. It’s a craft I learned from my mother, Mari Shorter.’”
"A car drove by John C. Lanphier, Jr., of 1533 Bates-ave., Springfield Ill, caused extensive damage to Shorter’s Gifts on Lake-st. yesterday.
City police said Lanphier was about to back out of a parking space and apparently put the Chrysler into forward instead of reverse. The car damaged the side of a car parked in the next space...knocked over a parking meter; broke four front windows of Shorter’s and cracked bricks in the front.
Mrs. Wheeler Rickman, 73, of Block 22, Lot 19, Bay View, was in Shorter’s doorway, saw the car coming, and ran but she received minor cuts from flying glass when the vehicle shattered the windows.
Carl Shorter said about 25 people were in the store at the time and felt it most fortunate that there weren’t more injuries. He said the merchandise in the window received damage from the glass and from being knocked down and all had been placed in baskets pending an appraisal.
The framework of one of the large windows was badly twisted and brickwork on the front was cracked but he said it was too early to make an estimate on the extent of the damage. Lanphier was given a ticket for an improper start.”
Check B & E At Indian River
"Tuscarora Township Chieftain of Police Roy Hinkle is today investigating the breaking and entering of Shorter’s Gifts that is theorized to have occurred sometime the past winter when the business place was closed for the season.
An inventory is being taken by the owner, Carl Shorter, of Petoskey, to determine the amount of stock missing.
Known to be taken were a quantity of clothing, giftware, and novelties.
Chief Hinkle said entry was made by breaking the glass out of the front door window and releasing the lock latch.”
Grandpa Carl was elected to the Petoskey Chamber Retail Merchants Board in 1954. A few years later in 1959, Grandma Ruth stepped into the race; with five vacancies on the Chamber Board, she was the only woman nominee among nine other male nominees. She was elected! Over the years, I served on the Downtown Management Board, and the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce Board. My dad served on the Emmet County Board of Commissioners after retiring from the store.
Grandpa loved children and quietly provided means for several area children to go to Camp Daggett. He knew it was a once in a lifetime experience. Dad learned about what Grandpa did after Grandpa had passed away. He was so touched he set up a scholarship fund named after Grandpa Shorter to help campers attend Camp Daggett. Each year we set the goal of donating $10,000 to the fund, and we send several children from the area each year. My favorite year of raising funds had to be the year of the Beanie Babies. My parents spent months collecting rare and retired Beanie Babies, and during the Sidewalk Sales of 1997, Camp Daggett’s executive director, Scott Okerlund, auctioned off the collectibles. That year we dressed up as life-sized Beanie Babies for Halloween and during the holiday parade, held silent auctions, and collected donations. After the holiday parade, we had raised $6,372. Grandpa would have loved how much fun we had raising money for a cause he loved.