Grocery shopping on isolated northern Michigan islands
MACKINAC ISLAND — Unexpected company is coming for dinner, and you need more salad ingredients.
You’re in the midst of baking banana nut bread and require more eggs and several more bananas.
A light bulb just went out, and you have other grocery needs.
Simple tasks for most Michiganders who have a variety of grocery stores within easy reach.
But what if you are a resident on an isolated northern Michigan island, traditionally accessible only by ferry or airplane?
Such is the case for residents on Mackinac Island, Beaver Island, and Drummond Island.
Doud’s Market on Mackinac Island has a rich history. According to Andrew Doud, the fourth-generation owner of the 4,500-square-foot grocery, the store is noted as the nation’s longest-lived family-operated grocery store.
The store’s history goes back to 1884, when Doud’s great-great-grandfather and his brother arrived on the island and established Doud’s Mercantile near the current Arnold Line ferry dock property. After a 1943 fire, the store relocated to its current Main Street location.
Over the years, the store has expanded in floor space and more recently added a nearby delicatessen and pizza carryout.
Being on Mackinac Island, where no motorized vehicles are allowed other than public safety vehicles, delivery logistics are literally horse-driven. Goods arrive from Wisconsin-based Great Lakes Foods, as well as from dozens of other vendors. The goods are loaded onto horse-drawn carriages and delivered to the store.
When the ferry is not in operation, goods are flown into the island’s airport. Or, when the winter’s bitter cold is at its height and the Straits of Mackinac are frozen solid, goods are transported over the ice from the mainland to the island.
“With all our delivery options, timing is of the essence, getting perishable products to the store,” Doud stated.
Traditionally, Doud’s has 12 year-round employees and, during the peak tourism season, staffing increases to 35.
An interesting aspect of being on Mackinac Island is not alone addressing the grocery needs of 500 permanent residents and the massive number of tourists, but also the variety of international employees who work on the island. Thus a significant need in accessing and addressing unique product offerings.
Just off the far eastern end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula lies DeTour Village, which offers ferry service to Drummond Island. Drummond is noted as Lake Huron’s third-largest island.
Kelly Melvin is the fourth-generation owner of Sune’s Grocery, the island’s only store of its kind. Melvin revealed the store’s history goes back to her grandfather, Sunes Bucht, who immigrated to Detroit from Sweden. On a trip with his then-employer, Bucht traveled to Drummond Island, where he met his wife. In 1935, they opened a small grocery and dry goods store.
Over the years, the grocery has grown in size and is now part of a shopping complex offering a restaurant and tavern, dry goods store, and hardware.
Compared to Doud’s delivery process, the island ferry can accommodate more than just passengers, vehicles, and goods, but also tractor trailers and other delivery vehicles directly to Sune’s delivery dock. There, forklifts take wrapped goods to the relevant store aisles.
Melvin stated that, in recent years, the island’s year-round population has soared from just under 1,000 residents to nearly 1,500.
When summer arrives, the mainland deliveries significantly increase. Drummond Island not only offers a variety of hunting, fishing, and recreational activities, it also offers one of the nation’s largest off-road driving trails.
Sune’s offers a butcher counter, bakery, delicatessen, and large adult beverage selection. As the spring season arrives, Sune’s traditionally opens a large greenhouse, offering an array of plants and flowers.
“We pride ourselves in customer service,” Melvin added. “We can still load purchases into a customer’s vehicle. Or, if the customer has a special need, such as a gluten-free product, we will order directly for them.”
Approximately 30 miles off the Charlevoix shores in Lake Michigan is Beaver Island. The 13-mile-long island offers a varied and rich history. In 1847, James Jesse Strang and his Mormon church followers arrived at the island, where he crowned himself king. In the early 1900s, the island was an important Great Lakes fishing center from which annually over a million pounds of fish were caught. The island is also known for a significant Irish heritage.
Jim McDonough is third generation with McDonough’s Market. He jointly owns the grocery with his two brothers. Established in 1933 by Lloyd and Eva McDonough, the store will celebrate its 90th year of operations this coming May.
As the island’s only grocery, for 52 years the store was located in what is now known as the Whiskey Point Brewery. In 1985, a new store was constructed near the original store. The new grocery offers 10,000 square feet of retail space and in recent years installed solar roof panels.
In addition to typical grocery products, the store offers a full-service meat counter, fresh produce, extensive dairy, baked goods, adult beverages, household items, and clothing.
Traditionally, the store serves the island’s 600 residents. However, McDonough states that, during the peak tourism season, the island’s population soars to 3,500- plus.
Goods are transported to the island from Charlevoix by ferry. McDonough said that, after mid-December, when the ferry ceases operation, goods arrive by a twin-engine airplane. Their primary grocery supplier is SpartanNash, along with numerous other vendors.
Like on Mackinac Island, they rapidly retrieve the goods and transport them back to the store. That usually involves multiple trips.
McDonough said that, being on an island throughout the year, weather can add challenges with delivery delays. He added that, when COVID-19 was at its peak, they ceased in-store shopping and began online or phone-in curbside delivery.
“We have a history of dedicated employees with years of experience assisting shoppers as well as assessing and replenishing the store’s inventory,” he said.
Jeffrey D. Brasie is a retired health care CEO. He frequently writes feature stories and op-eds for Michigan publications. A native of Alpena, he resides in suburban Detroit.