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$50,000 in debt, Salvation Army store closed

PERE MARQUETTE TWP. — The Ludington Salvation Army has closed its family thrift store on U.S. 10, and it hopes the upcoming liquidation sales will pay off the about $50,000 of debt the store’s operations accrued.

The store, located at 5905 E. U.S. 10, stopped accepting donated items on Aug. 1, and it officially closed its doors Aug. 9. That was the last day of work for the three employees who had remained, Ludington Salvation Army Corps Administrator Jon Miller told the Daily News.

Miller said the Salvation Army intends to use the building for new programs that won’t have as many expenses as the store, which racked up a debt of approximately $50,000.

“As we continued to analyze our operations and programs,” he explained, “... it took us several months to finally come to this decision, that if the store continued to move (into debt), that we would better serve the community by closing the store and having programs that don’t incur debt for the Salvation Army and that serve the community in a more appropriate way.”

There are several other thrift stores in the Ludington area, such as St. Simon Bargain Center, Yada Yada Resale the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and others, Miller noted. In the future, the Salvation Army will still help people find the furniture, household goods, clothing and other items they need, but those items will be provided through other resale stores rather than by the Salvation Army directly.

The Salvation Army is in the early stages of considering what programs its building will house instead of the store.

“We’re hoping that we can find some kind of service that meets the community need that we can put into there, because we do feel (the building is) a good asset for the Salvation Army to have here,” he said.

Since the store closed, Miller and two volunteers have been sorting through the “millions” of remaining merchandise items for upcoming liquidation sales, he said. Sales might begin during the last weeks of September, but the specific dates aren’t set yet.

“There were a good number of donations still in the back room, and so we’re getting those sorted, cleaned up and hung up so that we can have a couple of final sales to get rid of as much of it as we can, and to raise enough to cover as much of the debt (as we can),” Miller said.

The merchandise, which will be significantly discounted for the liquidation sales, includes furniture, dozens of bookcases, thousands of articles of clothing, as well as kitchen items, vacuums, sweepers, toys, holiday decorations and more. Eventually, the clothing racks and shelves will also be sold. The store’s truck — about the size of a U-Haul vehicle — will also likely be liquidated eventually.

“There will be a lot (of merchandise) for people to come and look at,” Miller said.

The thrift store was managed by the local Salvation Army for decades, and it started because the organization recognized that resale goods were a need in the community, he said. Since then, the community has changed, and other resale shops meet the need, he said.

“It was a very difficult decision to come to, but we want to make sure we’re serving the community in the best way possible,” Miller said. “The community has changed down through the years, and we want to continue to be relevant in the way we serve.”

The Salvation Army purchased the store building years ago, and it still has about seven years left to pay on its monthly mortgage, Miller said. Flipstar Gymnastics and Lakeshore Whole Health pay the Salvation Army to lease their sections of the same building. Once the mortgage is paid off, the money the Salvation Army gets from leasing those parts of the property can recoup its investment and help fund its programs, he said.

The thrift store operated in the building since 2012, and prior to that the Salvation Army leased a storefront across the highway in a strip mall by Little Caesar’s. Before that, the Salvation Army owned a store building on South James Street.

A few years before Miller and his wife, Tammy, became the Ludington Salvation Army administrators in 2016, the organization’s divisional office in Grand Rapids began supervising the Ludington store instead of the local corps handling the resale operations. The Grand Rapids office tried increasing profits, but during those years, the store accumulated about $80,000 in debt, Miller said.

“It’s hard to run a store from an hour-and-a-half away,” he said.

Local control of the store was given back to the Ludington Salvation Army about two years ago, Miller said. The Grand Rapids office assumed the full $80,000 debt amount so Ludington’s recent operation of the store began with zero debt, he explained.

But the store’s revenue couldn’t outweigh the costs of monthly mortgage on the building, insurance and utilities, paying employees’ wages and benefits and the expenses of disposing of donated items that aren’t suitable for resale, he said.

“We tried several things. There were some special sales, but even those things didn’t bring up the income that was needed to even make the store stay even,” Miller said, adding that they tried cost-cutting measures, “but (the store) just continued to flail.”

He said there were five paid store employees, which included a full-time manager and part-time workers, and there were also some volunteers. Two of the employees left for different jobs during the last two months of store operation. So the shop was down to the manager and two part-timers, who were working more than their allotted 29 hours per week due to the workload, and so they qualified for additional benefits, Miller said. When the store closed, all of the employees got their final paychecks and the pensions they’d earned, he said.

The financial situation of the Ludington Salvation Army as a whole wasn’t the best in recent years either, he said. Not including the store’s debt, the local corps had a debt of about $396,000 when the Millers started as the administrators.

“In the past three years that Tammy and I have been here, we’ve worked to get the Salvation Army out of debt,” he said. “We worked through a debt reduction plan ... and last December, we were able to retire that $396,000 worth of debt.”

Miller explained that the Salvation Army, faced with that much debt, had at first considered closing its Ludington operations, and it did discontinue some of the programs in Manistee.

“Because (Tammy and I) vacationed here, we fell in love with Ludington,” Miller said. “We never wanted to see that happen to this community. We volunteered to come here and to see what we could do.

“We worked through that debt ... so that burden is lifted, and we don’t want (the organization) to come back into that sort of (debt) situation,” he said.

He’s grateful for the donors who supported the thrift store and the Ludington Salvation Army, which celebrated its 125th anniversary this summer. Because of the contributions, the local corps can provide services to people in Mason, Manistee and Oceana counties, Miller said, adding that the organization must continually adapt to remain sustainable and to grow.

“The Ludington community is very generous,” Miller said. “If we live within our means and use the resources that the community gives to us, then I think we can be here another 125 years. We have to have vision and listen to the community ... as we work to meet what the community really needs, rather than to just do the things we’ve traditionally done because we’ve always done them.”


Local
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Michigan State Parks mark 100 years: LSP a 'recreational heaven'

Throughout the year, state parks across Michigan have been celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the state park system.

Events and activities are being held to commemorate the occasion at more than 100 state park locations, and Ludington is no exception.

Ludington State Park, nestled between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake was deeded to the state park system in 1926, according to Park Interpreter Alan Wernette.

“The Mason County Izaak Walton League gave the land to the State of Michigan,” he said.

Wernette said it officially became a state park on Aug. 18, 1936, and since then, it has become a top destination for camping, fishing, hiking and more.

Park Manager Jim Gallie said that when it first opened, celebrations included a marching band and concert at the beach house.

Then-Governor Frank Fitzgerald gave a speech written by P.J. Hoffmaster, Chief of Parks in 1936, according to Wernette.

“P.J. Hoffmaster named Ludington State Park in honor of the people of Ludington area who thought enough to give the to land the state for a future state park,” Wernette said.

Gallie said the community was a driving force in making the state park.

“One of the things I think is really cool about this park and how it was formed, was it was a big community effort,” Gallie said. “Citizens of the town saw the value in it and wanted to hold onto it.”

It’s one of nine state parks with interpreters, according to Gallie. Interpreters are guides with expert knowledge about the terrain who develop educational programs for visitors.

Gallie said there’s a great deal of history in each state park and how the parks have changed over the years.

Wernette agreed.

“(Ludington State Park) is so special,” Wernette said. “(With) the lighthouse, Hamlin Dam, the Beach House, this is a recreational heaven and educational historic heaven.

“There is so much here, and its laid out in such a way it’s user-friendly.”

Most visitors come to Ludington State Park for the beaches and water, according to Gallie, who said the value, the location and the variety of activities all contribute to the park drawing more than 800,000 visitors every year.

Ludington celebrates

One of the centennial activities Ludington and other state parks are participating in is the geocaching challenge — a kind of interactive treasure hunt that Michigan State Parks is hosting in partnership with the Michigan Geocaching Organization, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website.

“This will be up and running for three years and people can find and collect different caches and get a geocache coins,” Gallie said.

Gallie also encourages people to go online to www.michigan.gov/dnr for more information about the event.

“One of the features is the story map and people can upload photos. If anyone has any historic photos, upload them or bring them to us to scan them,” Gallie said.

Gallie said he’s having some photos restored from the 1950s, when the park got a “facelift,” which included clean-up work, trail-building and other projects to make the park more user-friendly.

Gallie said the park has been getting more use

“Hamlin lake has also been getting a lot more use,” Gallie said, noting that it’s partially due to the addition of a new playground near the Hamlin Lake beach area built by the Friends of Ludington State Park (FLSP) group, park staff, the DNR, volunteers and Sinclair Recreation in 2018.

The FLSP, which started on May 25, 1992, exists to help the park through volunteer activities and funding projects, according to member Steve Begnoche.

The FLSP also helps with installing signage on trails, maintains park shelters and runs the local chapter of the Adopt-a-Trail program, which many other Michigan parks participate in.

The goal of the program is to establish a program that allows volunteer groups to assist staff members in maintaining and enhancing state parks, according to the Michigan DNR website.

Bob Sassin has been with the FLSP for six years. He said he and his wife helped paint stairwells in the park and have been active campers at the for more than 40 years.

“Ludington State Park has more versatility than other parks,” Sassin said.

The FLSP also helps with the lantern-lit skiing and snowshoe events, where the volunteers serve warm beverages at the amphitheater during the winter.

More about LSP, other parks

Ludington State Park is open year-round as is the Cedar Campground.

More than 60,000 cans and bottles were returned from the campground to help generate money for programs, according to Gallie.

“I can’t say enough about the staff and they do a good job” Sassin said.

Belle Isle in Detroit has the most visitors, with two to three million a year, according to Gallie.

“Interlochen was the first state park,” Gallie said.

The park was established as Michigan’s first state park by the Michigan Legislature in 1917, which paid $60,000 for the land, according to the DNR.

For more information about Michigan State Parks and centennial celebration activities, visit www.michigandnr.com.


News
O'Malley talks budget, roads, red flag law with sparse crowd

The state budget, roads and a red flag law were the topics of discussion of office hours for 101st Dist. State Rep. Jack O’Malley Friday afternoon at Ludington’s city hall.

Those there for the meeting were sparse. It started with two individuals, and grew to just six in all plus O’Malley, R-Lake Ann. The state budget, with it nearing a deadline and the prospects for a shutdown, started the conversation.

“The governor has decided to take an aggressive mode with it now, saying bring me a play for $2.5 (billion). She says we haven’t given her a plan. We have given her four plans. She’s rejected them,” O’Malley said. “That’s an interesting part of this conversation. She keeps pushing $2.5 (billion), but she pulls $600 million out of that for other things.”

O’Malley said one of the plans that was proposed by his party included taking the sales taxes from the gasoline sales into the roads and not into the K-12 education budget.

“We would raise $855 million a year,” he said.

To replace the money that went into the K-12 budget, O’Malley said $500 million that was diverted under previous administrations would be put into the K-12 budget. And, internet sales taxes — he estimated $143 million — also would head to the K-12 budget. The general fund would supply the $500 million hit to the higher education budget, O’Malley said.

“Higher education would see a record amount. Both would see higher amounts. I believe the per pupil funding would go up $80 or maybe $90,” he said.

There have been concerns about the state’s public education retirees and their pensions because of the plan. O’Malley said one solution was to pass bonds to pay on those pensions. Or, refinance the debt for the pensions to make it easier for the state.

O’Malley insisted those retirees would not see a change to their benefits.

“Nothing would change with their pension,” he said. “All we’re doing is refinancing the debt.”

O’Malley said should there be a government shutdown, he believed the blame would be on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s shoulders because historically the responsibility has been put on executives at the state or national level.

“Right now, there is some gamesmanship going on,” he said. “People are worried about a shutdown. I don’t think there will be a shutdown.”

O’Malley said the state could avoid a shutdown if the sides agree to pass a resolution to fund the government for a time under the current funding levels.

“It hasn’t come up yet,” he said. “I believe I saw a quote from the governor saying she wasn’t for something like that. I still think it all can get done. I’ve seen senior members, and they’ve said to be ready for some late-night sessions. If we sit there for a lot of hours, that’s fine.”

Roads

Much of what is tying up the budget is the funding for the roads. Not necessarily attached to the roads is an 11-point plan from O’Malley and the House Transportation Committee.

“They’ve all been presented in the discussions. We’ve said, ‘Here are our proposals.’ I have not heard back from governor’s office or the speaker’s office (on the package’s movement),” O’Malley said. “Ultimately until the governors says I won’t sign that one, they won’t get much attention.”

O’Malley said no matter what amount of money the roads receive, he believed that the various road entities — cities, road commissions and Department of Transportation — could find ways to spend the money each receives better.

“(The package) gives locals more flexibility. When people talk about roads in Michigan, every other state allows locals to raise money,” O’Malley said. “The only way to raise money in Michigan is through a millage, through property tax.”

Red flag laws

Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola asked about O’Malley’s stance on red flag laws.

Red flag laws are those where law enforcement can seize firearms from citizens who are deemed to be a risk.

O’Malley said he has concerns about due process, and he said he met with Whitmer for half an hour about the subject. O’Malley related that he encouraged a long-form committee that would look into many aspects of gun violence, and not a “knee-jerk law.”

“We need to look at gun laws (and) mental health situations. (We need to) look at how society has changed. We have to look at how social media plays into it (and the) breakdown in the family (dynamic). If you take committee, … you have them talk, and tell everybody check bias at the door, and have a conversation. … It’s so that we can have sensible safety issues in place.”

O’Malley went on to say that the issue isn’t the gun or the law-abiding citizen with the gun, but those who wish to do harm. He compared someone having a gun to someone using a vehicle to hurt others.

“What about the AR-15? I was standing at a door, and the person there was making a point about guns. I didn’t say anything, but the guy had an exotic sports car. Who needs a Jaguar? That Jaguar isn’t going to kill people, but yes it is if you use it illegally,” O’Malley said. “They have it because they want it. You don’t need a Jaguar.”


Notable
Sugar Grove Community Reunion Potluck to be Sept. 14

Sugar Grove

Community Reunion Potluck to be Sept. 14

The Sugar Grove Community Reunion Potluck will be at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Scottville Area Senior Center, 140 S. Main St. Bring memorabilia, pictures, written memories of the school and a dish to pass. Table service will be provided.

Friends of the community are welcome, and those interested can star after the meal to visit. Parking is available in the back. For more information, call Carol at 231-757-2809.


Local
Dublin General Store fire under investigation, community saddened

A community is still hurting today following an early Saturday morning blaze that destroyed the Dublin General Store, located at 18372 Hoxeyville Road in Wellston in Manistee County.

The store has been a destination, not only for residents in the area, but for Manistee County visitors and vacationers.

Manistee County Sheriff John O’Hagan stated in a press release that his office is in the process of investigating the structure fire that ravaged the store just before 3 a.m. Saturday morning in Norman Township.

A witness called central dispatch at 2:57 a.m. to report the structure was fully engulfed, O’Hagan stated in the release.

“Deputies have been on scene all day investigating the incident,” he stated. “The sheriff’s office reviewed surveillance video and were on scene canvassing the neighborhood and conducting interviews while working closely with the Michigan State Police Fire Investigator.”

O’Hagan also reported that no one was injured in the incident.

The store has been around since the 1930s and began making jerky in the mid-1970s, earning it the nickname “The Jerky Place.”

Greg and Bonnie Fischer, third-generation owners of the store, posted a message on the store’s facebook page Saturday.

“We are so sad to inform all of our loyal, loving customers, that early this morning our store caught fire. We are all currently at a loss for words. We apologize to all of our long-distance customers who may have been traveling to us for the big holiday weekend. We will share more details when available,” the post stated.

The store’s Facebook page has been flooded with messages of condolence and support, and many users have been sharing stories of trips to the general store.

The Manistee County Sheriff’s Office is asking that anyone with information that could be pertinent to the investigation to contact Manistee Central Dispatch at (231) 723-6241.