Story and photos by Charles Chandler
In the retail world, there are establishments called anchor stores. The places guaranteed to bring shoppers to downtown or to those trendy urban shopping areas. They are the ones that we depend on being open when we want to buy certain brands or items or just browse to see the latest stuff. In smaller cities like White Cloud, those stores are more than a retail venue and can be a vital anchor for the community. Such is Rosenberg’s Hardware.
On November 15th, 1900, Mr. George Robert Rosenberg purchased the Hardware Store from Mr. A. Q. Adams. A good day it was because a wonderful family made White Cloud their permanent home and now, 118 years later, Rosenberg’s Hardware is still a shopping destination.
During the depression, the Store came close to folding, however, the people of White Cloud were determined to not let that happen and scraped together enough to pay the property tax to help the Rosenberg’s keep the doors open. Today the store has about 1200 feet of floor space, an incredible inventory, and a well-stocked tool and equipment rental section. The faithful have a saying that “if you can’t find it in Rosenberg’s then you didn’t need it anyway.”
The store is currently operated by Bob Rosenberg, son Eric, and with occasional assistance from his Grandson Isaac. His primary job is to oversee the activities of Susie the familiar English setter that often can be found napping behind the service counter. The Store is open seven days a week and customers are served by a staff of 14 and most with roughly 25 to 30 years of service. These 14 helpful folks can only be described as the Store family.
If the Store and the Rosenberg’s are the anchors in White Cloud then the staff is certainly the links in that anchor chain. Staff members like Burt Jackson, Pat, and Jeanette are unbelievably dedicated to the customers and the Store. When asked why he has stayed with Rosenberg’s for almost 40 years Burt Jackson replied “I like working here, it is interesting work and I like helping our customers.”
The next question was predictable, ‘Burt are the fish biting?’
The N3 Correspondent asked Bob Rosenberg if he could gather the clan in the Store for a generational photo and a brief interview. He did without complaint and gave a day and times for the in-Store meet up. They were early of course and the beautiful and beloved Dottie Rosenberg the Family Matriarch was well prepared with several family documents and her personal copy of Newaygo County History and Biographies.
Dottie and I were standing near the service counter waiting for Bob to finish with a customer and I commented on the extensive collection of taxidermy mounts and eclectic cultural artifacts around the Store. Dottie agreed and said that her husband, George Rosenberg, started the collections and Bob had organized the displays. Dottie pointed to a pair of crossed wooden skies on a nearby wall that belonged to her stepmom, Ms. Kolk
Ms. Kolk had been born in Copenhagen, Denmark and her father had made those skis for her so when she came to America she brought them with her. Dottie recalled that in the snowy Michigan winters her stepmom would ski down to the mailbox to retrieve the daily mail.
Bob finished with his customer and for a quick moment in time four generations of Rosenberg’s stood behind the service counter, smiled, had their photo taken, and then went about their daily business. But it was a moment that was somehow larger than what was captured in the photo. What was not captured was this hardworking family’s long relationship with this store and this community. And, perhaps what was seen in that brief moment was a glimpse of that elusive American Dream.
It was an interesting and fluid interview because Bob and Eric were waiting on the customers, and Mom Debbie was wrangling grandson Isaac and Susie. When shopping in Rosenberg’s the lines kind of blur between a family get together, a community social and a shopping trip. Everyone is talking, or looking for something, or calling Burt or Pat to the phone, or standing around in the wide aisles sharing the latest news. If Dotty is in the Store it is greetings and hugs all around for and by her extensive network of friends and acquaintances. At any minute you expect someone to reach behind the service counter and break out the potato salad and a casserole.
I asked Bob how the Rosenberg’s had been able to stay in business for all these years and compete with the big box stores in nearby Fremont and Big Rapids. I mentioned that most American Companies and many countries have not lasted as long as Rosenberg’s Hardware. His answer was surprisingly simple, “it is stocking items that customers need and the consistently friendly and professional service that our employees provide. The good Lord just keeps bringing us wonderful people to help run the Store. As for competition, we will always have that, first, it was Sears, then Kmart, then Wal-Mart and now Amazon. We don’t chase price points with these big box stores because they will drop their prices on certain items for a week or so and then the price will creep back up to about where we are on the same items. Asked about his future strategy, (with a smile and quick laugh) he said well Eric is here now and putting in over 40 hours a week, and Grandson Isaac is out there running around somewhere and we will keep doing what we are doing now and hope our customers keep shopping with us.”
A couple days after the photo I was back in the store for bar oil for the chainsaw and asked a familiar customer if he thought Rosenberg’s was an anchor store? He said something like, I don’t know much about anchor stores, but I shop here because they are always open, have what I need and I like the people I meet here.
That depression era change we invested with you guys really paid off and we in the Cloud do appreciate the Rosenberg Family and the Hardware Store even if we don’t say it very often.