The new Vera Grace & Etta Mae's is open in Marine City.
If you believe in signs, then a fire is a pretty big one. That’s the idea that Donna Tebeau was entertaining, at least.
It was just this past January that Tebeau’s business burned to the ground. A fire started outside the building that would eventually overtake her downtown Marine City storefront.
Maybe it was time to retire. She had been running the antiques and home decor store Vera Grace Emporium for more than 20 years, after all. But it was an employee’s offer to become partners that reinvigorated both Tebeau and her business.
Just five months after that devastating January fire and Tebeau and new business partner Vicky Smithberger have celebrated the grand opening of Vera Grace & Etta Mae’s. Still located downtown, the store has moved to a historic home on Water Street.
The fire destroyed everything, forcing Tebeau and Smithberger to start from scratch.
"I’ve been in business for so long, I forgot that it’s a slow progression of adding stuff. You’re starting over and you don’t have a pencil, a calculator. You don’t have anything," Tebeau says.
"You can begin to take things for granted."
Tebeau sounds re-energized by the newness of everything. The move to the historic house, with its hardwood floors and molded ceilings, is befitting to an antiques and home décor store.
New beginnings are ahead at Vera Grace & Etta Mae's antique shop on Water Street in Marine City.Having a business partner has helped, too. Tebeau says that Smithberger has brought a youthful energy to the business. Her younger age helps keep the inventory more contemporary, too.
The support from the community has also reinvigorated the business. From the fire to the re-build to the grand opening, the community has shown up to support Vera Grace.
"Most people die and then it’s their family that finds out how much they were loved. I got to hear that first hand," Tebeau says. "The outpouring of support was amazing. I cry happy tears every time I talk about it."
When Tebeau first opened Vera Grace, there wasn’t much happening in downtown Marine City, she says. It was just her and a couple of other antique stores. But a loyal customer base grew. The town became known as a destination for antiques shoppers.
Tebeau first credits the addition of the Marine City Fish Company, and then the restoration of the theater, as two major events that helped downtown build on its antiques destination status and become something bigger.
It used to be just her and one other antiques store on Broadway. Now there are people walking around everywhere, she says. Downtown has become a shopping and dining destination.
"Downtown is quaint. It’s beautiful on the water. Hopefully we never lose our small town-ness," says Tebeau.
"But who would’ve ever thought that you’d have to make dinner reservations in Marine City?"
Vera Grace & Etta Mae’s is located at 256 S. Water St. in downtown Marine City.
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