Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Edison series.
For those who have passed by Town & Country on Portage Street, but never stepped foot in the store, you may be missing one of Kalamazoo’s best-kept grocery shopping secrets.
As an ad from the '60s boasts, it’s a store “worth crowing about.”
It started as an open-air fruit stand over eight decades ago. Today it is an old-fashioned neighborhood store with a clean and updated look. And Town & Country
is the longest-standing grocery in an existing location in the Kalamazoo area, located at the same spot in one form or another since its early days.
“Besides the hospital, it’s a big anchor to the neighborhood,” says Mike Rupp, part owner since 1995 and full owner since 2004. “With walking traffic, and being on the third busiest street in the city, it’s an important store to the residents.”
Some might shy away from shopping at a store that is located on the edge of what has been considered a rough part of the city, but Edison residents covet their hidden jewel.
“It’s a place where everyone gets along,” says Fran Dwight, longtime Edison resident and On the Ground Edison photographer, who has shopped at T & C, as it is affectionately called, since the '70s. “You can’t find everything there, but almost everything.”
All you have to do is enter the store to see that the produce section is worthy of a Sesame Street set, with tomatoes and eggplants and apples and grapes neatly and colorfully stacked. Town & Country is a store like the one your grandmother probably frequented.
And the roots of Town & Country go deep into the neighborhood. Over 80 percent of its employees are Edison residents, with a couple of employees having worked for the store for almost 30 years.
John Holmes, Edison resident and store manager for the past 13 years, is a familiar face to shoppers. Holmes, whose house is right behind the store, grew up in Edison. His parents owned the now-closed Sunnyside Inn on Portage Street, and he says some of his customers knew his parents, though they are “a dying breed.”
“Customers call me the ‘old guy’ here,” says Holmes. “I enjoy the people. I know their kids and I know their grandkids. A lot of times, I say, ‘I know your grandmother so you better behave.’”
Not only is T & C clean, friendly, and affordable, but the store boasts the largest selection of meat in the county at likely the most affordable prices around. Whether large crates of chicken for corporate picnics or goat cubes for the now-defunct Island Fest, Town & Country is Kalamazoo’s go-to meat supplier.
And high-quality meat, too—95 percent Grade A, says Rupp. From entrails and cow tongue to chicken feet and frog legs or pork to make your own chorizo or brats, you can find it at T & C. And if you can’t, Rupp will find and order it for you.
How did such a small, neighborhood store come to be such a large meat supplier? You can thank Rupp, who started off butchering meat at 17 and has been growing his expertise and connections ever since. That allows him to find the best prices and make the best deals, savings he passes on to customers.
“We’re owned by the butcher,” says Holmes. “We carry the hard-to-find items.”
Rupp says his best advertising is word-of-mouth, which draws people from near and far. ”Someone goes to a cookout and says, ‘Where did you get this great steak?’” he says. Last year, the store sold over 1,200 New York Strip steaks in four months.
Frequent customers come from South Bend and South Haven, but Rupp says he has had customers travel from Traverse City and even Chicago--just for the meat.
“In order to be a really good meat guy, you need to know just as much about cooking as you do about the meat,” says Rupp, who prides himself on keeping up-to-date with smoking and other cooking techniques. “People want to know what type of meat to buy. In a perfect scenario, I would be on the floor constantly talking to customers.”
Add to Town & Country’s other qualities a '60s and '70s soundtrack that will put a bounce in your shopping steps.
“I just had to go out there and tell a lady, ‘We don’t have a dance permit,’” says Holmes, laughing. “’You can’t dance down the aisle.’”
Though Rupp owns three other Town & Country stores, including one in Pinconning and another that just opened in Gun Lake, he spends 98 percent of his time at his flagship store in Edison, which, as a large volume meat supplier, is clearly his baby. “I’m the meat guy,” says Rupp. “These guys just don’t understand it. Too many moving parts.”
Rupp says he’s fond of the neighborhood and doesn’t plan on moving.
“The people here are down to earth,” says Rupp of Edison. “They’re friendly. They don’t go on vacations. They picnic. They cook out as a group. They all come here. It can get absolutely nuts in here sometimes. But it’s where I want to be.”
Theresa Coty O'Neil is a Kalamazoo area freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in many local publications and her short stories have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review and West Branch, among others. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Edison.
Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s “On the Ground Edison” series amplifies the voices of Edison Neighborhood residents. Over three months, Second Wave journalists will be embedded in the Edison Neighborhood to explore topics of importance to residents, business owners, and other members of the community. To reach the editor of this series, Theresa Coty O’Neil, please email her here
or contact Second Wave managing editor Kathy Jennings here
For more Edison coverage, please follow these links.
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The On the Ground program is made possible by funding from the City of Kalamazoo, LISC, the Fetzer Institute, the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, Michigan WORKS!, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.