Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Main Street Stories: The Curtis Building

The building at 307 S. Main was built in 1907 by Lewis W. Curtis (1879-1976). Curtis was a 1902 graduate of the University of Michigan College of Dentistry, and after receiving his degree he returned to his home in Rochester to establish his dental practice. By 1907, he was successful enough to build a new brick building on Main Street which housed his offices on the second floor and provided retail space on the first floor.

Several different businesses have occupied the ground floor of the Curtis building. It served as the first home of the A & P grocery store after the chain located in Rochester in 1923. In 1926, Alvah N. Dean opened a feed store there, and a feed business would occupy 307 S. Main for over half a century thereafter. Dean asked one of his employees, Al Michalka, to manage the feed store in 1927, and Michalka added a line of pet supplies to the store on his own. By 1933, the Dean feed store and the hatchery business that he also operated were suffering from the effects of the Great Depression; manager Michalka was no longer being paid and his only income was that which he earned from his pet supplies side line. When Dean's business failed completely in the summer of 1933, Al Michalka decided to take over for himself. Al's son, Robert Michalka, shared this story with me:
...he met with the owner of the building, Dr. Lewis Curtis, and offered to rent the building at a reduced rent. Dr. Curtis said, "how do you think that you can make it when Dean couldn't?". My Dad said that he could and Dr. Curtis agreed to rent him the building with my Dad setting his own rent and raising it himself as conditions improved, which he did until he bought the building in 1960. The counter had been removed and my Dad went to see Mr. Dean and told him that he needed the counter as he was going in to business for himself. Dean said that he couldn't as he needed it. My Dad told him that he had not been paid for two months and that Dean was going to give him the counter and have one of his men and a truck deliver it. He then opened his jacket to reveal a gun. Mr. Dean provided the man and a truck. ... Those were different days.

Main Feed and Seed, the name by which Al Michalka's business was known, operated at 307 S. Main until March 1982, and is fondly remembered by several generations of Rochester residents. Even though Dr. Curtis may have questioned whether Michalka could make a success of the store, Michalka himself apparently had no such reservations. For the 1935 Double Jubilee festival held in downtown Rochester to celebrate the centennial of Avon Township, a commemorative program was printed which included an ad for Main Feed and Seed. That advertisement carried the tag line "we'll be here when your kids grow up." Al Michalka kept that promise. Main Feed and Seed was still there when I grew up, and my own father hadn't even been born yet when that Double Jubilee ad was printed!

Since Main Feed and Seed passed from the scene, the Curtis building has been occupied by a coffee house and several boutique businesses. The ground floor is currently occupied by the Dragonfly Boutique. The Curtis building celebrates its 102nd birthday this year.

Robert Michalka took this photo of 307 S. Main in June 1968 and kindly provided it for this post. The man shown in front of the store is Ernest "Red" Ennis, who worked for Sutton's Market and later, for Main Feed and Seed.

1 comment:

  1. "He then opened his jacket to reveal a gun. Mr. Dean provided the man and a truck. ... Those were different days."- We may be headed back to those days.