Siblings without rivalry: Two sisters reunite by running community-driven Kalamazoo businesses

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

KALAMAZOO, MI — For years, it seemed that their paths would never cross again. 

Yet here they are, two sisters, one blonde, one brunette, sitting at the same table and trying hard — and failing — to maintain dry eyes. Rebecca Macleery and Jennifer Faketty acknowledge one commonality: they share the harsh experience of childhood trauma.

Rebecca Macleery, 50, is the brunette. Her long curls fall freely over her shoulders. She is the owner of Kalamazoo Dry Goods, a fabric, textiles, and arts supply store at 833 West South Street, that opened its doors in 2022. 

Rebecca Macleery, owner of Kalamazoo Dry Goods, and sister Jennifer Faketty, owner of Confections with Conviction, frequently visit each other's stores.Jennifer Faketty, 53, with her long, straight blonde hair pulled back under a chocolate-brown baseball cap embossed with her business name, became full owner of the Confections with Convictions store at 116 West Crosstown Parkway in January 2023. She has taken over the reins from Dale Anderson, who opened the chocolate shop in 2010. 

That is their second commonality: they are both forging success in their own business ventures, even as how each reached this point differs vastly. 

A rough beginning

“I was 7 when Dad died,” Rebecca says. “Jennifer was 9. He died by suicide, and Mom was still very young then. We didn’t speak much. I was closer to my grandparents. I was 13 when I ran away to live with my grandparents — and it was my grandfather who taught me all about business. He gave me books to read about stocks and taught me how to track them. And my grandmother taught me to appreciate beauty and high-quality things."

Fran DwightNew Confections with Convictions owner Jennifer Faketty“I don’t recall that much about my childhood,” Jennifer says. “Just that after Dad died, I cleaned the house, I mowed the lawn, I kept my room spotless. Everything spotless. I started drinking when I was 13, and by 19, I was into hard drugs.”

Rebecca returned to live with her mother after about a year. She married at 22, a marriage that would not last, but she would eventually remarry and become the mother of four children, two born of each marriage. Her interest in business continued, and in her 30s, Rebecca went to college and earned a Master’s in Business while carrying her fourth child. 

“During those years, I moved to Chicago, to Oregon, to Kentucky. I was gone for 20 years, gone from Kalamazoo since I was 19,” she says. “When family wanted to know what was going on with Jenny, they called me.”

Fran DwightFounder, mentor, and former owner of Confections with Convictions Dale Anderson with new owner Jennifer Faketty“I went to Kalamazoo Valley, to Western, but I dropped out of college,” Jennifer says. “I waitressed and tended bar. Drugs became my life. When I was using meth, that was the best I ever felt, so my aim was to live my life that way.”

Jennifer kept horses in Paw Paw, where she then lived with her long-time partner. 

“The horses helped me feel joy and feel responsible for my life and theirs,” she says. 
With the passing of years, Rebecca returned to Kalamazoo in 2013 to be closer to family. 

Jennifer moved to Ohio, where she returned to school, earning a degree in equine health and complementary therapies.

“My partner had died of suicide, too,” Jennifer says, and her eyes instantly fill with tears. “He was my rock, but now I was on my own. I moved to Ohio to start a new life. I had gotten very ill around the time I turned 41 — physical consequences of my addiction. If I didn’t want to die, I had to get clean. I finally had that moment of clarity. I’ve been sober since I turned 43.”

The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were her saving grace, she says. Jennifer then returned to Kalamazoo, clean and healthy, and began looking for a new job. 
“I never felt good enough, all these doubts forever in my head,” she says. “But I applied for a job at the post office, and I was hired for rural mail delivery.”

Pushed into change

Rebecca meanwhile had developed her career in the world of nonprofits, but as she juggled her duties with her family, she found herself increasingly stressed and depressed. She needed a change. 

Fran DwightRebecca Macleery, owner of Kalamazoo Dry Goods“I had massive anxiety,” she says. “I was getting up at 4 a.m. to get the kids to school and get everything ready for the day. My husband was often out of town on business, so it was all on me. I kept going to the drugstore to measure my blood pressure, thinking I was going to have a heart attack. But, you know, I like to do things BIG.”

Instead of slowing down, Rebecca brought still more into her life when she came across a vacant building, once a dental office, then a daycare center. The building dated back to the 1960s, had been empty for some time, but in her mind’s eye, she saw it sparkling and new — a business of her own. 

“I recognized a community need for a space to create art,” she says. “Come in, use the space, the materials, offer workshop rooms. I didn’t think I needed to be an artist myself to offer this. 

Fran DwightThe outside of Kalamazoo Dry Goods on 833 W. South Street."But I was short on money. I put my retirement savings into this after buying it on a land contract. I didn’t realize how expensive it would become, working with all these building codes, getting all these permits. It was difficult to navigate all that.”

In addition, there were repairs to be paid. She had to replace a furnace and water heater. The roof was leaking. Costs added up. Time went by for a project Rebecca thought would have come together much quicker. And then — there was the Covid pandemic, and the world turned upside down. It was yet another barrier. 

“I bought materials I planned to sell,” Rebecca says. “I bought fabrics while taking seasonal jobs to pay the bills. I sold the fabrics online.”

Coming together

At long last, Kalamazoo Dry Goods could open its doors to the public. Rebecca announced her grand opening with pride and hope in November 2022. Nobody came. 

“I came!” Jennifer perks up at her sister’s story. 

Rebecca wiped away a bit of dampness from her eyes and bucked up — again. She wasn’t about to give up. Her skills at running nonprofits came into play. She knew how to market, and she understood how to draw people in. She doubled down on her efforts and Kalamazoo Dry Goods became a desirable destination for creatives. 

Fran DwightThe outside of Confections with Convictions at 116 W Crosstown Pkwy #101Two divergent paths were beginning to converge again. Jennifer carried mail on rural routes for three years, saving up enough to buy a house with a dream in the Edison neighborhood. 

“I wanted to open something like a recovery house,” she says. “A place where addicts can live while in recovery. I still want to do that.”

Back when she was awaiting a response on her job application at the post office, she had also wandered into a chocolate shop to drop in on a friend who worked there. 

“And I ended up volunteering at Confections with Convictions,” Jennifer grins. “I did that while carrying mail.”

Fran DwightTruffles, truffles, and more truffles at Confections with ConvictionsThe chocolate shop says all in its name. It is a place where founder and then-owner Dale Anderson hires people, especially youth, who have convictions on their records — or were going through recovery from an addiction — and find it difficult to find employment. It was a place for second chances—and third, perhaps a fourth chance. Jennifer had found yet another home. 

“Dale said to me, you have a knack for this!” Jennifer recalls. She worked at the shop while delivering mail. Working alongside the owner, she learned that he was looking for a successor. 

“He wasn’t ready to leave — Dale still works here — but he wanted to know that when he couldn’t anymore, someone would be here to take over,” Jennifer says. 

If Jennifer couldn’t initially see herself in that role, Dale Anderson could. Her volunteer work became a paying job. A part-time job became full-time. When she shared her dream of opening a recovery house, her boss said he liked the idea, “let’s keep talking.” 

“I was learning how to become a chocolatier,” Jennifer says. “I learned about ingredients and how they come together. I learned about subtle flavors. And Dale was so kind and compassionate.”

Jennifer draws in a breath and lets her chocolate-colored cap throw a shadow over her eyes. 

“I’ve gotten soft in recovery,” she says. “Part of healing and recovering from an addiction is to feel my feelings again.”

Fran DwightRebecca Macleery, owner of Kalamazoo Dry Goods, speaks with a customer.Her sister reaches across the table where they are both seated and touches her arm.

If Jennifer wasn’t feeling worthy before, she is now getting out into the community, shaking hands, making connections, passing out gourmet truffles, and learning about fundraising. She is the Chair for the Fundraising Committee of The Alano Club of Kalamazoo — where she found her own path to recovery — and she has found the courage to become full owner of Confections with Convictions as the former owner stepped back. She now oversees five employees as well as her former boss, now mentor. 

“But I didn’t know anything about social media,” she says. “I was still carrying a flip phone. I came to my sister because she’s really good at that kind of thing.”

‘Just love people’

Years later, Kalamazoo Dry Goods has gained importance among artists and those who like to dabble. Students come in from nearby Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University. Art lovers stop by while in town to view an exhibit at the Kalamazoo Art Institute. 

Fran DwightThe interior of Kalamazoo Dry GoodsTo increase traffic and realize her desire to make the arts accessible to all, Rebecca offers gift cards for store credit. 

“Art supplies can be expensive, so if someone wants to give a donation for a gift card that someone else can use, that is welcome here,” she says. “I have had both donors and people taking advantage of the gift cards. I know I am having an influence on my community — my supporters are engaged. I want people to have beautiful things.”

What interests her most, Rebecca says, is to challenge the capitalist business model. 

“I have constructed my business to be sustainable and inclusive to everyone,” she says. 

Including sisters. The two visit each other’s businesses regularly. They share insights and encouragement. They promote each other to their customers. On occasion, they have even had the same dream when asleep — of a beautiful space offering beautiful things, a dream now each has realized, each in her own way. 

“My whole life, since Dad died, was to get that love we lost when he was gone back again,” Jennifer says. “My heart doesn’t feel as broken anymore. I’ve learned how to feel whole again. Just love people. I can do that.”

Fran Dwight

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Read more articles by Zinta Aistars.

Zinta Aistars is the creative director of Z Word, LLC. She is the producer and host of the weekly radio show, Art Beat, on WMUK.