In Contrast, This U.P. Town Is Thriving In a country that's seen its share of downtown decay, central Marquette seems to be thriving. There's a bustling farmer's market, and along Washington Street there are coffee shops and quirky businesses including hockey and bingo supply stores. Host Liane Hansen pays a visit to Getz's Clothiers, a business dating from the 1880's that now draws 80 percent of its sales from online business.
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In Contrast, This U.P. Town Is Thriving

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In Contrast, This U.P. Town Is Thriving

In Contrast, This U.P. Town Is Thriving

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Downtown Marquette, Michigan stands in stark contrast to Baraga. Marquette is thriving. Washington Street comes to life when the sun rises over Lake Superior. This is what downtowns are supposed to look like - small, independent businesses selling everything from bingo supplies to wedding dresses.

They're not open yet but Baby Cakes Muffin Company is already crowded with locals and some tourists. The outdoor tables are taken; so are many inside the small storefront. Charlie Hallsworth(ph) is behind the counter to take my order.

Mr. CHARLIE HALLSWORTH (Baby Cakes Muffin Company): Won't be too long. Just an iced vanilla latte?

HANSEN: Iced vanilla latte, black coffee and two blueberry muffins.

By now, a table outside has opened up and we linger over breakfast. And don't expect to hear hubbub and music from a block away. We go around the corner to investigate and run smack-dab into the Saturday morning farmer's market. It's in the community square, where members of the Copeman Band are tuning up.

The band serenades both consumers and purveyors of what is a plentiful harvest of fruits and vegetables. Tented tables offer a cornucopia of homemade fudge, cheese, meats and breads.

Unidentified Man: Okay. I got some eggs.

Unidentified Woman: Thank you.

HANSEN: We snake our way through the crowd to walk to South Front Street for our appointment at Getz's Clothiers. The solid frontier architecture outside is intact. Inside, customers are being served.

(Soundbite of cash register)

HANSEN: John Spigarelli is vice president of marketing for Getz. He's a Yooper native and has been working here for ten years.

Mr. JOHN SPIGARELLI (Vice President of Marketing, Getz's Clothiers): The original store was founded in this local area in the late 1800s. The current owner's great-great grandfather started this operation and he brought a very needed source of work wear and work clothing to the area's laborers. You know, the timber industry, the mining industry. He had a horse and cart and he went all over the place and provided these products to people, and it's a great story.

HANSEN: What do people buy?

Mr. SPIGARELLI: Summertime is very different than wintertime. You know, our summertime months, a lot of tourism, a lot of people enjoying the outdoors. So, it's your standard mix of shorts and tees. But the wintertime is where we really excel because thankfully Mother Nature helps us out greatly here. But our outerwear business is unbelievable.

HANSEN: The shelves and the hangers are full of new winter stuff - very fashionable flannel shirts, fleece, parkas, jeans and overalls; soft gloves and hats compete for space with scarves and sweaters. The selection is varied in both price and design.

Unidentified Woman #2: Okay. There's your change. Thank you very much.

Unidentified Man #2: You're welcome.

Unidentified Woman #2: And enjoy the rest of the day...

HANSEN: You can walk down the main street of many cities in the United States and you won't see any family-owned or independently owned businesses. And in fact in so many cities where the commerce has moved out to the highway and the big box stores, it's rare to see a department store in business in a small town. How do you account for Getz's survival?

Mr. SPIGARELLI: A lot of loyalty from our local customers. You know, our community is not large and we're very proud of this. We have a lot of our community members do shop here and shop locally. We really treat people like they're family when they come in. You know, they're going to get a "hey, good morning," and be very welcomed in this store and that has been our real cornerstone of making this business great.

HANSEN: It's one thing to make a business great; it's another to maintain it and sustain it. Twenty percent of Getz's business is walk-in traffic; the other 80 percent is online.

Mr. SPIGARELLI: Now, with the Internet we are right back in the premium work wear marketplace, you know, providing and outfitting blue collar America, working America with products that really, you know, it is clothing but it really is a tool for them. I mean it's something they need every day to work.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Mr. SPIGARELLI: Unconventionally, the warehouse is on the top floor.

(Soundbite of door opening and footsteps)

HANSEN: The top floor of the downtown Marquette department store is busy with workers packing boxes - mostly from Internet orders - and getting them ready to ship around the country.

(Soundbite of clicking)

HANSEN: The brain behind is one floor below.

(Soundbite of banging)

Mr. SPIGARELLI: Here we go.

HANSEN: It's a rickety old elevator ride down to a small warren of rooms with computers.

(Soundbite of typing)

HANSEN: Jaime Waters and Carrie Roy sit in their cubicles answering shoppers' questions and processing Internet orders.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Ms. CARRIE ROY: It just wouldn't have all the items from our Web site...

HANSEN: Getz Clothiers went online in 1997. At first, they sold to neighboring counties and states - soon orders were coming in from both coasts. The thick blue Internet cables wind like renegade vines up the wall next to John Spigarelli's desk, evidence of the scope of Getz's Web business.

Ms. ROY: All right. Thank you so much. Bye-bye.

HANSEN: So, essentially, the Internet has pretty much saved Getz's Department Store.

Mr. SPIGARELLI: Yes. Getz's Department Store would be around without the Internet but it wouldn't be as vast as it is now.

HANSEN: Have you seen the effects of the recession on your business?

Mr. SPIGARELLI: In some cases. Particularly, anything that we had done that was fringe, very high-end product. But we've also seen a growth in the business of products that are of value, products that are durable, products that stand for quality.

HANSEN: It's rare that I get to talk to a department store manager wearing flip-flops and shorts.

Mr. SPIGARELLI: Yes, it's very... it's casual Saturday but it's a testament to, you know, our type of business. We're a very laid-back, friendly organization and it's a great atmosphere to work in.

HANSEN: And a laid-back, friendly place to shop.

Unidentified Man #3: Beautiful weather...

Unidentified Woman #3: Primetime in the U.P. There you are, sir. Thank you very much.

Unidentified Man #3: Bye-bye. Thank you.

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