The comforting clatter of printing presses was music to my ears as I recently walked into the rambling stone building Gwen Frostic called home for many years in northern Michigan.
Familiar sights and sounds welcomed me back to Gwen's home as the business rumbled back to life after weathering a sudden foreclosure last October and an uncertain future before reopening its retail business just weeks ago under new ownership.
New owners Kim and Greg Forshee enjoyed a close association with the business over the years. Kim worked several years for Gwen Frostic Prints as an outside sales and marketing director, while the couple's Frankfort, Michigan, manufacturing company DAMB Mold Base provided many parts for Frostic's lumbering old Heidelberg presses that pumped out so many cards, stationery, placemats, and other products featuring Gwen Frostic's engaging nature images over the years.
The couple plan to preserve Frostic's artistic legacy and love of northern Michigan nature as they slowly restore the aging building and carefully add features and products that respect the Michigan icon's history and the close attachment many long-time fans feel for Frostic and her work, according to a recent article in the Traverse City Record-Eagle newspaper.
The Forshees told the newspaper that their plans include slowly repairing and restoring the property, expanding product lines that respectfully reflect Frostic's love of nature, and developing a museum centering on Frostic's career and life.
The scene at Gwen Frostic Prints seemed comfortingly familiar to me as I walked past the fieldstone walls and trickling fountain at the building's entrance, browsed the rustic racks filled with paper products featuring Frostic's elegant images, and paused for a few moments (as I always like to do when I visit) by the railing overlooking the press room as more of the paper products that were always the foundation of the business and perennial customer favorites rolled out of the machines.
Spots like the Gwen's quiet library with large windows overlooking the river and nature sanctuary behind the building and the short nature trails behind the parking lot always provided a bit of serenity, even on the busiest summer days, so it was nice to see that that serenity appeared largely unchanged even as the business weathered a rough winter.
I always believed the business would reopen as Frostic's legacy and importance as a draw for tourists in the region were just too important to lose.
As I reported here in May, as many as 1,000 people might stop by the store on a busy summer day. The business employed 15 to 20 people, and officials at the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Business Bureau reported that they answered more questions about Gwen Frostic's than any other attraction in the area. Even the bank forced to foreclose on the business and its former owners readily acknowledged the importance of the long-time business to the local economy and hoped to find a way to keep it open.
The Forshees credit their bank and former Frostic employees for helping them quickly reopen the business earlier this spring in time to welcome Frostic fans back for the busy summer season.
A steady stream of visitors shopped at the store as we visited the store in early July of this year. The occasional van carrying a tour group pulled into the lot, and I heard many individual customers and long-time Frostic fans tell workers they were so glad to see the business reopened.
The woman who waited on me and bundled up my purchases, one of the former Frostic employees rehired by the Forshees, seemed enthused about things when she told me the business was "getting there" as word spread about the reopening.
The product selection remains a bit thin in some areas as the business scurries to make up for the lost production time over the winter. I was unable to purchase the Gwen's signature green-and-white wrapping paper this visit, and received my purchases wrapped in plain brown paper instead of Frostic paper. I was able to buy a few of the small-size 2011 wall calendars, but the only large-size calendars they had in stock were for 2010. I also didn't see any of the plastic mugs with Frostic paper inserts for sale during my visit, but they did have some ceramic coffee mugs, and I bought one as a gift.
Some of the most immediate changes at Frostic's include a few new product lines like woven throw blankets and jewelry, like the little sterling silver pendant featuring one of my favorite Frostic designs (the "happy raccoon") that I couldn't resist buying for myself.
I felt a new sense of hope for Gwen Frostic's during this visit and thank the Forshees for their effort to insure a bright future for a place I've enjoyed and loved visiting for years.
Check out my earlier story, Gwen Frostic Prints weathers winter closing and reopens this spring, for more information about Gwen Frostic and the business.
You can also read The Life and Wisdom of Gwen Frostic by Sheryl James to learn more about this talented, but often enigmatic, woman. The book is fairly short, being an extension of an article James originally wrote for the Detroit Free Press, and predates Gwen's death by a couple of years, but it's still a fascinating read for those who grew up visiting the store and anyone interested in learning about the woman who overcame many odds to create a multi-million dollar business and artistic legacy.
© Dominique King 2010 All rights reserved