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Booming in Benzie

A flood of new businesses give Benzie County a lift

Danielle Horvath - August 27th, 2012  
Okay, it may not be a “boom,” but several new businesses have opened that have added an economic shot in the arm to mostly rural Benzie County. From a natural foods market to a sports outfitter to an alpaca farm store and many others, they have filled up empty spaces and brought new ideas to the area.

Here are a few of the latest entrepreneurs on the region’s West Coast:


For owner Charlie McDaniel, who launched Charlie’s Natural Food Market in Frankfort, the venture was born from his experiences with his own health and the benefits of changing his diet.

“I have three degenerative discs in my back, and the treatment was steroid injections into my spine, which I did every six weeks for over a year. But I was concerned about long-term steroid use and began researching diets to alleviate pain. I became a vegan (no meat or dairy) and the back pain was gone within about a month. I lost weight, my blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol all went back to normal.”

McDaniel, who had always tried to eat healthy, starting talking with other like-minded people in the community and began considering opening a natural foods grocery store with an emphasis on locally-produced products.

“We didn’t want the competitiveness in Traverse City and since we live here, we thought it would be good for us and good for the community.” He and co-workers began remodeling what was once a day-care center, on M115, next to the fitness center, just before the Frankfort arch, and opened last August.

“We remodeled the kitchen. There is a natural division between the store and coffee shop and there’s an outdoor patio,” McDaniel said.

Although it is not in downtown Frankfort, McDaniel explained that “most natural foods stores are destination places, and this location allows ample parking and room for expansion, which we couldn’t get downtown.”

With years of business experience, including 25 years of organic farming in Africa, where his computer and IT knowledge brought Internet service to southern Zimbabwe, McDaniel, his wife Wendy and daughter Ashleigh returned to Northern Michigan when the political environment in Africa became unsafe. “Coming from a farm in the bushes of Africa, the last place I wanted to go was a city, so this made sense.”

With fresh organic produce in season, locally produced dairy, bakery and coffee products, free Wi-Fi, and several events planned, they are anticipating their first summer. “We want to be a benefit to the community; we don’t charge extra because of the location, we want to keep people here and keep the business here.”

Charlie’s Natural Food Market is located at 76 Airport Rd., 231-399-0034; hours are Mon-Fri 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Saturday 9-5, closed Sunday. Check them out online at:


Chris Nelson has a sign on the fence near her barn that reads “Caution – these animals will steal your heart.” And one look at the herd of adorable alpacas inside confirms it. Part of the camel and llama family, but smaller, alpacas have almost comical faces with large brown eyes and lashes, are friendly, inquisitive and gentle. They have teeth only on the bottom in front so they are nibblers, have pads on their feet, not hooves, and they have been bred for thousands of years for their fine fleece that is warmer than wool and softer than cashmere.

Alpacas are the fastest growing livestock industry in the U.S., with people getting into the business either for the fiber, as a hobby farm/4-H project or to breed.

Chris and her husband David, a local veterinarian, started out 11 years ago with six animals and have built it up to a herd of 40, with over half of them color champions. “Good breeding takes time,” Chris explained, “we breed only males that are herd worthy.”

At the most prestigious alpaca show in the country, their prize male was awarded the 2010 Brown Futurity Male Color Champion. He is now sought-after for stud service, with people contacting them from all over. “Two women drove from Vermont to have their females bred; all of his off springs are color champions.”

The Nelsons want to spread the good word about alpacas and have recently opened Crystal Lake Alpaca Boutique.

“People are very interested in them, we had over 300 people here last year for our Farm Day,” Chris said, “We sold three animals and over $2,000 in related products, we decided to remodel the garage over the winter and opened the store on May 26.” The store carries products made from alpaca including sweaters, socks, hats, mittens, scarves, baby items, and stuffed animals.

Although alpacas are in all 50 states, the demand for alpaca fiber far exceeds the supply. “A lot of people got into it in the past five or six years and then the economy went down, we were able to hang on and continue to breed high quality stock,” Chris offered.

Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm will be celebrating Alpaca Farm Day on Saturday, September 24 from 1-5 p.m. An Alpaca 101 Seminar will be held on Sunday, September 25 at 2 p.m. with all welcome.

Alpaca summer store hours are Wed-Th-Fri 1 - 5, Saturday 11-3 and is located at 4907 River Road in Frankfort, just west of Gwen Frostic’s, check out their web site at:


Dave and Amanda Romnell saw their years of hard work pay off this past May when they opened Big Bob’s Up North Outfitters in Frankfort. From year-round fishing supplies, to hunter safety courses and gunsmith services, to an indoor virtual archery range and consignment sporting equipment, they specialize in all things outdoor oriented.

“We hope to encourage as many people as we can to get outdoors,” Amanda said. “And because of the awesome summer fishing we have and the fact that this is home, we knew we wanted to be in Frankfort.”

The business caters to all things fishing – including live bait, the hottest lures for the big lake or inland lakes and rivers, rod and reel service and repair, local fishing and weather reports are free along with the coffee that’s always on in the back room. Customers can call ahead on Friday for the latest Hot Box, which includes bait and lures for what is currently biting, along with weekend weather and fish reports. For the $30 cost, it will be waiting for them so they can have a great fishing trip as soon as they arrive; it has been a hit so far this summer.

“We both come from a long line of entrepreneurs,” Amanda said. Husband Dave operates Tiny Bubbles, a third-generation charter fishing service. “He knew a lot of the products and suppliers because of his years on the boat,” Amanda explained.

The couple has built an extensive network of people in the industry and found that to be invaluable. “We never knew how much people had our back until we did this, and we have awesome family support” she said, “The community response has been completely overwhelming, people have come in so excited that we’re here, have given us their encouragement and the city has been great to work with.”

They admit there was a quick learning curve as they signed the lease for the building on April 23 and opened one month later. “It was a very quick process, we haven’t gotten much sleep!” Amanda chuckled. But the couple built their family needs in to the business by having space in the back for their two young daughters, family sleeping quarters upstairs and by living just three miles away.

Big Bob’s Up North Outfitters business hours are 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week in the summer. Call ahead for latest fishing updates at: 231-352-5360 or go to their web site:

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