As these businesses follow a proud family legacy, they work to carry on the values instilled by previous generations. They work to follow models that are less about profit margins and more about community. While these next generations strive to remain the same, since March of 2020 these businesses have had change thrust upon them. Yet, as they gaze ahead and navigate a new world and new difficulties, they always remember to gaze behind to remember where they came from, to remember who they are, and to remember that although many things may change, the core of their family business will always remain the same.
In 1947 Don and Lottie Martin opened a hardware and home store in downtown Tecumseh. Over the past 74 years, the store has become a generational legacy to the community with the fourth generation of Martins now working and operating the business. Last winter, second generation owner DJ Martin passed away.
DJ’s strong work ethic, his always happy and positive demeanor, and his unwavering love and support for the community made his death a profound loss for both the family and the community. Yet the Martin’s generational legacy of hard work, happiness, and community continues.
Homefront: When you look back at the history of Martin’s, do you see a thread or a legacy that has been continuous throughout the generations?
Jenny (Third Generation): There are a lot of things. Hard work is one. My dad always said, “Be a job large or small, do it right or not at all.” He was very adamant that no matter what it was, you put your hard work into it and make sure you do it right. And if you don’t do it right [laughs] you get to do it again. My grandpa was all about hard work, too. When I worked here in high school I’d have to hide the calculator. He’d want me to do all the work in my head.
David (Third Generation): Dad always told me, if you are a hard worker you are never going to have a problem. He taught us that you gotta get up in the morning and go after it.
Jenny: At the same time, even though he worked so hard, Dad always said it wasn’t work for him because he enjoyed it so much. I feel that way. I also think there is a legacy of community here. The community connection was established before we took over. Keeping that connection going is a big deal to us. There is a lot of loyalty of generations that shop here. We’ve been here for a long time, and we know our customers. It’s a wonderful thing to enjoy the people you work with and to enjoy the people who shop here. When we’ve had our hardships, the community came out. When my dad died, the support was overwhelming. They’ve been here through the years. That means so much. It’s nice to go to work and be somewhere where it feels like it means something.
David: I want to say that this place isn’t just about the Martin family. It takes 28 people to run this place. It takes everybody to make it work. This is about them, too. And it’s about the community. We wouldn’t be thriving for all these years without the entire community. They have been so supportive for so many years. My grandma still talks about how much she misses being in the store and talking to everyone. My dad was a lot like my grandma. It was always about the people who came in here. Nobody who came in here was a stranger to them. And then the community donated 56 trees to honor dad after he died. It’s things like that that bring happiness here.
Homefront: Let’s talk about that happiness. A lot of people comment about what a happy and friendly place this is. Where do you think that happiness originates?
David: I think a lot of the happiness goes back to my dad. He made the crummiest job seem like a good time. We would work all day Saturday and do our normal job, and then on a Saturday night we’d have to strip and wax the floors in the hardware section. That’s an all-night job. We wouldn’t get done until four in the morning. But my dad would say, “It’s going to be a blast! We are going to get pizza and pop and have a great time.” Or if we were unloading a truck, he’d say, “Let’s see how fast we can get it done. I think we can do it in seven minutes.” He made everything a game.
Jenny: He was always betting someone. He’d say, “I’ll bet you five bucks…” And he was a man of his word. He’d always pay up if he was wrong.
Homefront: The world has gone through significant changes since March of 2020. How has this changed how you do business?
David: For all the years of doing business, it was pretty routine. But since COVID started, it’s a whole new way of doing business. None of the inventory comes in on a timely manner. So you don’t know how to order or stock. It is quite the guessing game these days.
Jenny: There are no guarantees right now. I don’t know if my orders for next year will get here. Everything has changed so much. We work really hard to have a thriving business. We’ve had to overcome some really big obstacles and we are still working to overcome those, just like everybody else. We try to take the core values that our grandpa and grandma and dad taught us and adapt and keep pushing forward because this place means a lot to us, and it meant a lot to them.
Homefront: Another change you’ve experienced is DJ’s absence. What do you miss?
Jenny: So much. We are still trying to absorb it. Someone said that once the first year is done we’d be through all the hardships of the first holidays and birthdays without him. But I thought, everyday is a hardship, because we were used to seeing his face every day.
David: We don’t see his cronies as much anymore. They’d just sit in the chairs over there in furniture and talk in his living room, as he called it.
Britney: (Fourth Generation): I miss hearing his voice. I miss seeing him standing over there next to the fertilizer. I’ve been working here for almost ten years now. I got to see my grandpa every day when he was still with us. What it boils down to for me is that I followed in my great-grandparent’s and my grandpa’s and my dad’s and my Aunt Jenny’s footsteps. Not everyone has the chance to work with their family, and I love it. I love seeing them everyday. I’m just so proud to be DJ’s granddaughter and to have had the privilege to have worked with him.
In 1975 Harvey Schmidt opened a pharmacy in downtown Tecumseh. That same year, Harvey welcomed his son Sam into the world. In the 46 years since, Harvey expanded to three locations and welcomed Sam and his wife Carrie to the family business.
In November of this year, Harvey retired. As Sam and Carrie continue the pharmacies and strive to preserve the small town caring attitude that is so dear to what they do, they have also been forced to make significant changes brought about by COVID.
Homefront: When did you know that you wanted to be a pharmacist like your dad?
Sam: I started working here in 1988 when I was in middle school. I was 13. I stocked, I vacuumed, and I’d ride my bike to make deliveries. I liked it here, but when I went to college I was afraid to stay with it. I thought maybe I was just going to be a pharmacist because it was what I knew. I was an education major for one year and within that year I missed it. I asked myself why I wasn’t just doing what I knew I wanted to do. So I switched my major. Then, when I went on to pharmacy school at the University of Michigan, I met Carrie who was already in the program.
Carrie: I was pretty sure my path was going to be in a hospital setting until I met Sam. When I graduated, we knew we were going to get married, and Harvey said he’d hire me. I knew we wanted to start a family, and I thought that I could have a family easier in this setting where I could work part time. I knew I wanted to be around to raise my kids. It seemed like a great path.
Homefront: When you look back at the history of Schmidt’s, do you see a thread or a legacy that has been continuous?
Carrie: What first comes to mind is small town community. Harvey started that, people know him, and he knows them and their families. A lot of the time customers come in and say this pharmacy feels so warm. It’s inviting. Harvey did that. He wanted to be that community pharmacist and I think Sam does that really well, too. That’s a legacy we want to continue.
Sam: Along those same lines, I think there is a legacy of just doing what you gotta do. Whether that is working late or meeting someone down here after hours to get a prescription when they are getting discharged from the hospital. It’s just doing the extra things for people. They know they can count on us. I don’t expect a lot to change. I worked for my dad for the last 20 years now. If we didn’t have the same vision and goals, it wouldn’t have worked so well. I don’t think it will be different for people, but it will be different for us without him here. We’ll still reach out to him for advice. We’ll always do that.
Homefront: You don’t expect a lot to change when it comes to the core of who you are, but I imagine a lot of change was thrust upon you since March of 2020.
Sam: It has. This has been really hard. The pandemic has changed our business model completely. For instance, just the announcement of the boosters. All of a sudden thousands of people are due and our phone is ringing nonstop. We are doing our best, but we are also short-staffed. We were built to fill prescriptions, and we still have to do that and certainly can’t neglect that. But today we did 70 vaccines. Before the pandemic we might do five. There just aren’t enough hours in a day. Carrie and I are often here late and take work home.
Carrie: On top of that, this isn’t just a vaccine we know. We are learning a new dose of a new drug and learning how to put it in the Michigan database and how to bill for it and how to get reimbursed from the government. So it’s not just giving a shot. We have to figure it out with our software system, we have to collect a lot of supplies, we need to increase our staffing in order to give so many shots, and that all is a cost to us. We can bill for all of that administration, but that entails a lot of paperwork. So on our end, it isn’t just, get a shot and go. There is a lot.
Sam: We had to reconfigure our store. The area that used to be cards and gifts is now a vaccine only area with a freezer and boxes for billing. This will go away someday, but until then, we need to figure out how to do this while being short-staffed. Our staff now, they are busting their tails.
Carrie: They really have been working so hard. I just can’t wait for the moment when we can take a breath and have the time to show just how much we appreciate them.
Sam: Even with all the hardships, I love helping people and doing something for them, because that just feels so good.
Growing up, Tyler Hoelzer was told that he had pizza sauce in his blood. His father, Clint, started Clinton’s Hometown Pizza in 1991, the year that Tyler was born. From birth, Tyler has grown up in the pizza business. Little Tyler took his naps on the flour bags and wore an apron before he could barely walk. He watched and learned as his father slowly grew a small shop into a community legacy. By middle school, Tyler was working in the restaurant and continued to do so through college. Then in September of 2019, Clint decided it was time to retire, and Tyler, with pizza sauce still coursing through his veins, purchased Hometown Pizza.
Homefront: When you look back at the history of Hometown Pizza, do you see a thread or a legacy that has been continuous throughout the years?
Tyler: I think it’s my dad’s support for the school system and the community. That was always his biggest thing. He taught me that we are Hometown Pizza. That’s what we are here for — the hometown. He always gave donations to the schools, to sports teams and youth groups. He was really proud of that and it’s important to me to continue that.
Homefront: It's interesting that when thinking about your legacy, you didn’t mention pizza.
Tyler: We’ve consistently served great pizza for a long time. We serve good food, and that’s important because it keeps people coming back. But that’s not our legacy. It’s about giving back to the community that gives us so much and has kept us here for so long. My dad really had to grind for those first 10-15 years and I am so grateful for that. I don’t have to do that. I have to go through the maintaining process so we can continue to give back to the community.
Homefront: Even though you are maintaining what your dad started and grew, I imagine COVID has forced you to make a lot of changes.
Tyler: COVID has completely changed how we do things. A lot of it is just forced on us because of lack of help or lack of supplies. Every week I get a new rundown from the distributor on what prices are increasing or what things I just can’t get. Last week lettuce was $20. This week it is $65. We shred our own cheese and used to pay $1.90 per pound of block cheese. One week, cheese peaked out at $3.50 per pound. Before COVID, I knew what it cost to make our food. Now it changes every week. So now there are months when I lose money or barely clear anything because I just can’t predict prices. Or, when a cooler breaks down, we used to be able to get it fixed the next morning. Now we wait weeks for parts to come in, and we can’t operate without a cooler. I pretty much make a new business plan every week. On top of that, we are also short-staffed. Luckily for me, the high school kids want to work and they are ambitious. I’m grateful for them. But I can’t find anyone over the age of twenty to work. So I need to change and adjust for all of this. In an effort to make sure the high school kids aren’t spread too thin and won’t fall behind in school, we are now closed on Mondays to give them a day off. Our hours are shorter. We don’t do lunch anymore. We have to make changes to survive this.
Homefront: It might be a lot easier for you to just close the doors and get a job somewhere else. Why are you fighting for Hometown Pizza?
Tyler: It might be easier, but I don’t want to lose the history here. I’m fighting for that. I love this town. I love this pizza. I love the history of this place. It’s so rooted in this town. When anyone leaves Clinton, the first thing they do when they come back is they get Hometown Pizza because it is what they grew up with. I love that history. My dad’s name is actually Clinton. He is named after his great-grandfather. Our family has been here since 1885. We have a lot of history here. This is our hometown.