Sanford businesses reopen after reconstruction led by Three Rivers and Midland Business Alliance

Sanford Hardware reopened its doors in downtown Sanford on May 13 after a complete redesign and build effort led by Three Rivers Corporation. As work wrapped up in the store in late April, hardware associates busily stocked shelves while painters, construction workers and electrical contractors applied finishing touches to the building’s interior. This kind of concerted effort has allowed Three Rivers and its partners to build the store from the ground up in six months after floodwaters from the May 2020 dam failure destroyed the original structure.

Store associates stock shelves while construction work and painting continues in the background. As water overtook the village of Sanford last May, damage to the Sanford Hardware building was devastating. “There was basically nothing left,” says Three Rivers Corporation Project Manager Adam Jankowiak. “We wanted to salvage what we could, but it was just a complete loss.” With the structure irreparable, Sanford Hardware owners and the project team decided to have the building demolished and have a new store built with significant modifications and upgrades.

Sanford Hardware after the dam breach.Controversy regarding flood levels led to delays in starting the Sanford Hardware rebuild and presented significant challenges. The new building is elevated higher than it used to be, with the back of the store at ground level and the front elevated by five steps. The modified site plan includes a substantial parking area behind the business.

“Before there were three stores with one storefront making up Sanford Hardware and each one of those had different floor heights,” explains Jankowiak. “There were ramps and it was congested. Now everything is one level. With this it is easier to get around inside the store and the ceilings are higher which allows for more storage.” New or enhanced features for the renovated store include a custom nuts-and-bolts center, a “Color Bar” paint selection station, and customer service areas equipped with hardwood counters.

Red Oak Restaurant gets a fresh start

Down the street at the Red Oak Restaurant, the eatery has regained its status as a community gathering spot. Classic cars aficionados convene at the Red Oak for weekly meetups, and the restaurant is usually bustling at lunchtime. 

The Red Oak Restaurant interior is fully renovated.Although its structure survived the flood, Red Oak’s interior was completely gutted due to being filled with over 7 feet of water. The owners were unable to salvage any cooking equipment, furniture, or even pots and pans. Only the above bar soffit and oak ceiling could be saved.

“We were able to refinish the soffit and extend it to give more bar space,” says Jankowiak. “There is also a brand new walk-in cooler and freezer, a beer cooler and they have an office now. The restrooms are now ADA accessible with a barrier-free access.” The restaurant now features a buffet station, an updated selection of furniture, and brand new kitchen equipment, some of which was donated by MidMichigan Health.

The Red Oak kitchen features brand new kitchen equipment, some of which was donated.During the course of a four-month effort, Three Rivers also refreshed the entire Red Oak exterior, painting the existing brick and adding new siding. The lounge reopened with a soft launch on April 3 and welcomed a full house seating on Easter Sunday.

Shifting from cleanup to rebuilding

Three Rivers contributed to the cleanup process in the initial weeks after the flood following a call from Rep. Annette Glenn speaking on behalf of Sanford village president Dolores Porte. The company donated a week of an operator’s time and an excavator to assist with cleanup and later partnered with J.W. Fisher to continue the clean-up efforts. Fisher Contracting committed $150,000 in in-kind services and took the lead on further cleanup efforts.

Sanford Hardware's parking lot is still under construction. Here, the crew is working on leveling the ground.Looking for ways to further assist the Sanford recovery, Three Rivers developed a program committing to raise $1 million to repair or rebuild three homes and three businesses in Sanford and Gladwin, eventually selecting Sanford Hardware, the Red Oak Restaurant and Stryker’s Lakeside Marina for targeted restoration efforts. Funding originated from the Gerstacker Foundation, the Strosacker Foundation, the Dow Chemical Company Foundation, the Alden B. Dow Foundation and Corteva Agriscience. 

Work continues at Sanford Hardware between shelves filled with inventory.“We worked with community leaders in Sanford and Gladwin to identify which homes and businesses would be a good fit for this project,” says Three Rivers Corporation Director of Business Development Chris Moultrup. “We really shifted from just cleaning up and getting debris out to rebuilding and restarting the community.”

Local community steps up with help and donations

Community support was instrumental in helping Three Rivers complete the Sanford Hardware and Red Oak restoration efforts. The United Way of Midland County with CertainTeed and Saint Gobain donated siding for both exteriors, while County Line Electric provided all electrical services for both buildings. DuPont donated the insulation and other miscellaneous items at Sanford Hardware.

With the structure irreparable, Sanford Hardware owners and the project team decided to have the building demolished.“It seemed like for the majority of contractors we called, they were willing to donate something or give services at cost or at no cost,” recalls Moultrup. “People saw that there was a need, and it wasn’t a question of ‘well, who is going to pay for this?’ The only question was ‘what do you need and where can we send it?’”

Numerous area businesses, including Mobile Air, GE Insulation, J&D Plumbing, Bolle Contracting and Choice Concrete, stepped up to contribute labor and supplies. “There was a domino effect once people saw what we were doing and the level of investment we were making,” says Moultrup. “They came right along with us.”

County Line Electric donated all of the electrical parts and labor for the Sanford Hardware and Red Oak Restaurant rebuild projects.Sanford Hardware, the Red Oak Restaurant and Stryker’s Lakeside Marina were part of a pilot program receiving business grants consisting of $200,000 in the form of a forgivable mortgage. Terms include staying in business at the current locations for the next two years. Programs like this, along with continued community support, can help these time-honored businesses regain their footing and reemerge as mainstays of the Sanford area.

“It is amazing to see the community come together the way they did to help rebuild Sanford,” says Moultrup.  It truly shows that we live in a remarkable area that helps each other out and looks out for one another. The most important thing to remember is that we’ve only just begun getting this community back to some form of normalcy. There is much more work to be done and it will take all of us to get there.” 
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Read more articles by Marta Manning.

A native of Poland, Marta Manning shifted her career path to freelance journalism after working as a research chemist. Her articles have appeared in, the Chemical City Paper, Our Catholic Faith Midland, the national blog, and the Midland Daily News. Marta enjoys drawing and painting, hiking, and supporting local arts and indie music.