‘Why not make it happen here?’ Young Blue Water entrepreneurs challenge the status quo

When you grow up in the same city most of your life, you notice the ins and outs of it. What the best restaurants are, the best stores to snag great clothes and deals, the perfect place to sit and chat with friends, or where to grab a great cup of coffee. But sometimes you notice what’s lacking, and what could be improved. An opportunity to benefit the community. Four young local business owners saw a need in their community and took the gamble to fulfill it.

Main Street Ensemble first opened its doors in the summer of 2020Main Street Ensemble, an upcycled consignment shop in the heart of downtown Port Huron, was opened by a group of six friends all under the age of 25.

“We always knew we wanted to do something as a group,” says co-owner Dylan Wolf.

“We were having our usual breakfast at Kate’s Downtown and spitballing ideas. And that’s when we thought about a clothing store.”

The group already had talents and passions in creative fields – DIY, building, video, photography, and more — so it didn’t seem like that big of a jump to do this, Wolf says. “Everybody has a job and everybody does their thing.”

After breakfast and a short walk down Huron Avenue, the group saw the perfect building for sale and two days later it was theirs.

“Most of us lived here and we had heard all about downtown and how it use to be,” Wolf says. “It is a skeleton of what it used to be so we thought, ‘Why don’t we make downtown a place that we want?’” 

Wolf believes that it is critical to always be asking questions and, he says, “I think that we are loud.”

Having young voices in a space asking the tough questions and switching up the status quo is valuable to a community. The importance of cultivating a culture that stresses community, acceptance, and fun is central to the ideals that Main Street Ensemble strives to bring to Port Huron.

Other young entrepreneurs in the area also hold these ideals close to their business standards and have, at one point or another, noticed missed opportunities in the area. Luke Marion, co-owner of both MIgardener and Bella Bolla, almost left the area to start his ventures in another state but saw a need in Port Huron.

“There was this huge void left in Port Huron,” Marion says. “It was a blank canvas and when I saw the opportunity, I didn’t think twice.”

The Marion family in 2018, the year MIgardener first opened in Port HuronAfter graduating from college, Marion knew what he wanted to do – start his own business. This led to the opening of MIgardener, the “first baby” of Marion and his wife Sindy, which stemmed from their passion for showing people where their food comes from and how to grow their own.

“Creating a culture of ownership and togetherness is so important,” he says.

Marion stresses the value of fresh eyes that young business owners bring to a city; the more new sets of eyes you have means the less you are going to overlook. “This young set of eyes can help lead a city in the right direction. You want a city to grow and adapt because if you don’t adapt, you die.”

“Why not make it happen here?”

Just down the river, two young professionals saw the opportunity to bring progress to their community in Marine City.

After working in the beauty industry since 2015, Haley Alexander opened her own business, Glo Hair & Makeup Co., in 2018. A native of Marine City, Alexander saw what starting a venture like Glo could bring to the community she grew up with.

“I wanted to be able to provide the same big-city services to our quaint town,” Alexander says.

Glo is not just a traditional salon that offers the usual cut and color. It challenges current trends with fresh ideas. Alexander believes that these are some of the biggest abilities that young professionals bring to the table.

Pete Patsalis, also a native of Marine City, saw the rare boating and fishing opportunities that flourish in the Blue Water Area and opened his own business, Hook One Charters, in the spring of 2018 when he was just 21 years old.

“We are blessed with great boating and fishing just like places I would visit,” Patsalis says. “So I figured, Why not make it happen here?”

Patsalis believes young professionals and entrepreneurs are very important to small towns as they bring exciting energy and ideas to already well-established towns, which can be a perfect mix. And some things are just universal.

“Boating is an activity that everyone can enjoy, from kids to seniors,” he says. “And nothing beats a sunrise on the river.”

Challenges remain

The belief that fresh eyes and new ideas can affect positive change seems universal among these young entrepreneurs. And coming in with high energy and a different perspective allows for the possibility of change and growth in a city. But pushing barriers and switching up norms can lead to push back from a community that is already held tight in its ways.

“The biggest hurdle other than age would be opportunity,” says MIgardener’s Luke Marion.

For him, starting MIgardener from the ground up was challenging due to a long history of exclusivity in the area. He recalls how things were so close-knit. Everyone that knew each other, knew each other for a reason.

Being a young entrepreneur can mean not being taken seriously because of your age and having dreams put down because they are too lofty.

“People don’t like change. But you can’t stay a small Midwest town if you expect to grow. You have to embrace the cultures that are growing and thriving,” Marion says.

“Being a young person, we tend to see the world as more of an opportunity and I thought my town would really benefit from that.”

Glo Hair & Makeup Co. recently opened a storefront in Marine CityThere can also be a sense of seclusion when starting a business. Haley Alexander of Glo recalled it being challenging to find peers to turn to for advice.

“It’s hard to relate to other young people because our priorities can be so different,” Alexander says.

Dylan Wolf from Main Street Ensemble says that even some of the smallest intricacies can be a hurdle, like tax licenses and getting the city on board. “Just figuring out how to properly get established was hard, but now that we are open, it’s very much like a magic tree house of sorts.”

Moving forward, all of the entrepreneurs want to expand and grow. Grow in size, outreach, and inclusivity. And continuing to question and bring forward other viewpoints is what allows for this growth. Main Street Ensemble launched a new webstore that ships worldwide. Glo Hair & Makeup Co. opened their own brick-and-mortar location in Marine City to complement their on-site business model.

“I encourage anyone to open a business and take a chance on their dreams,” Marion says. “It doesn’t come easy, but there is a huge reward. You can have some of the most exciting and rewarding moments doing what you actually want to do.”

Mikaela Westrick is a freelance writer and a Blue Water native.