Life Is a Happy Mess
This Alanson vintage store combines history and community
By Rachel Pasche | Aug. 19, 2023
While the words “new” and “antique” don’t often find themselves together in the same sentence, there are always exceptions, like in this instance: Alanson’s new antique store, Happymess, is the perfect place to snag a piece of history to take home for yourself.
Mother-son duo Pam and Derek Ignatowski own and operate the store, which grew out of a love of collecting, antiquing, and history. Derek especially has always been interested in finding old things and researching their backstories.
“Since he was a boy, he would visit garage sales, flea markets, or antique stores, picking up baseball cards, toys, or other things that interested him,” Pam tells Northern Express.
The idea to start selling the items picked up steam once Derek acquired an interest in old vinyl records, discovering that there were plenty of people out there willing to pay for a vintage album. Pam helped out in her spare time, but really joined the cause once she retired a few years ago. From there, the pair began to spend their free time scouring flea markets and garage and estate sales, selling their wares at farmers markets and antique malls in the thumb region of Michigan.
When they moved to Alanson to be closer to family, they continued their craft, regularly driving to Wilson’s Antiques in Traverse City to sell items they had found.
They had been looking for a way to expand their business into a brick-and-mortar location, scouting out storefronts in Petoskey and other areas, when one day last summer they noticed a “For Rent” sign up on the building that is now Happymess. They leapt at the chance presented to them, and the rest is history (pun intended).
From Vinyl to Pyrex to Posters
At Happymess, customers never know what they might find, but they’re sure to discover a story. Each item in the store is listed with a tag that contains an abundance of information, from the approximate year the item is from to what its history may have been. The pair usually tag-team this effort, with Pam taking on the “clothes, linens, and other things Derek doesn’t find as interesting as [she does], and Derek taking on most of the rest.”
Among some of the more popular items in the shop are the vinyl records that started it all, salt and pepper shakers, Munising bowls, jewelry, perfume bottles, and toys from past generations.
“It seems surprising, but Pyrex containers sell really well,” Pam explains. “We try to keep that in stock because people are always buying those up.”
Some collectors are especially partial to the store’s stock of restaurantware from the Carriage House Restaurant, inside the Hotel Iroquois on Mackinac Island. “They called us up and asked if we were interested, so we grabbed as much of it as we could, and that has been very popular,” Pam shares.
Local historic finds also sell well and are in high demand from visitors. Pam says, “We have posters and signs from local fairs from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, which are all really fascinating.”
Other items of interest include Jack in the Pulpit vases in perfect condition. “It’s always exciting when we find these and they look like they’re brand new. I love when we find a perfectly preserved piece of history,” Pam tells us. Their selection of Kellogg pottery from Stanley Kellogg’s pottery shop in Petoskey is always a big hit as well.
Some of the rarer items visitors to the store might find are first edition books, tomes from the 1800s, autographed novels from the early and mid-20th century, and pristine glassware from ages past.
One element of the shop that really adds to the sense of community is the Happymess guest book, where visitors can fill out their contact information as well as some details about a specific item they’re looking for. Pam always has a notepad on her person of things to look for while she’s searching through markets. When she happens across something matching the description from the guest book, she snatches it up and gives them a call.
Riding the Ups and Downs
The store will celebrate its first anniversary this September. Every day is a new experience, Pam says, between making space for new things, rearranging the existing inventory, researching and cataloging new finds, and keeping their eyes peeled for more unique items.
“Business has been up and down,” says Pam. “We had no idea what to expect when opening our own storefront. We cut down hours in the winter, but still stayed open because we want to remain operating year-round. The construction on US-31 has been a rollercoaster; we were initially along the detour route, but now it’s a little trickier to get downtown Alanson and to the store, but we’re managing.”
Almost a year in, Pam and Derek still do a majority of the sourcing for the store’s product themselves. In addition to exploring the local area for antique finds, the mother and son are often invited to come sort through garages and storage spaces of community members to see if there are any pieces of value or historical interest.
“We’re big history buffs and like to learn about the history of an item, so we really focus on finding historical things. It’s interesting to wonder how these things have survived and lasted over the years. Especially the paper stuff,” Pam says.
This Labor Day Monday, the store is planning on hosting a big sale to celebrate their first anniversary. “It’ll be a great chance for people to come check out some of the stuff we have in store,” Pam says, “and hopefully find something that they love or is meaningful to them.”
Visit Happymess at 6241 River St. in Alanson, call (989) 750-3820, or find them on Facebook at @LifeisaHappymess.