Husband-wife team opens old-time general store in Marquette

Meet the husband-wife team behind the Flying Moose, a new "old-time general store" in the heart of downtown Marquette. Their goal: nothing less than "a one-stop shop" for organic food, local beer, sporting equipment rentals and much, much more.
The Upper Peninsula is about to have its very own "old-time general store," more than a generation (or more--no one is quite sure) after the last one disappeared from the region. The Flying Moose, as it's known, is the brainchild of Negaunee-area residents Jeremy and Melanie Poch. More than a decade in the making, it'll open in the old Hockey Central storefront on Washington Street in downtown Marquette.

So what does an "old-time general store" entail? First, it'll be a hub for locally produced, all-organic meat and produce. Jeremy has been cultivating relationships with local farmers and taste-testing samples for months. He plans to take regular deliveries during the growing season and augment with preserved items in the cold months. And he's working on ways to keep prices competitive for lower-income customers for whom organic produce is normally out of reach.

The Flying Moose will have a full-service deli, too, with salads, sandwiches and other fast, fresh items. (There won't be a grill-top or any other means of making hot food.) Visitors can eat at a 15-seat indoor seating area or, when it's warm, on the picnic benches arranged right by the bike path out back.

There'll be local beer (including Blackrocks, Ore Dock and KBC) for off-premises sale, too, as well as a wine selection curated by a local oenologist.

"We thought about serving beer and wine in-house, but decided we wanted more of a family-friendly atmosphere," says Jeremy.

The Flying Moose will also have an array of sporting equipment, from rental bikes and kayaks to fishing lines and lures. The Pochs were inspired by similar models in other tourist destinations, such as northern Minnesota and Colorado. "These general stores are actually still really common, particularly out West," says Jeremy. "It's about time the U.P. had one."

To cater to the tourist market, the Pochs plan on offering bike, kayaking and possibly hiking tours using their rental equipment and an "outdoorsy young man" who currently serves as the store's "employee number three." Jeremy wants to offer tours year-round, adjusting for the season--think fat bike tours in winter, waterfall tours in spring and kayak tours in summer.

The Pochs originally targeted the larger Traverse City market, figuring it would be better able to support a modern general store concept. "That was a mistake," says Jeremy. "The cost of living down there was so high, and the community just wasn't as supportive as we were used to here."

The pair packed up and headed back to the U.P. in early 2014, slowly working toward a seemingly distant opening while juggling other full-time responsibilities: Jeremy as a regional sales manager for an Oregon-based company, Melanie as the proprietor of a local seasoning business called Seasoned with Salt. (Seasoned with Salt will continue to exist when the Flying Moose opens; the store will reserve some shelf space for Seasoned's distinctive salt and spice blends.)

It took a jarring turn of events--"a blessing in disguise," says Jeremy--to push the Pochs from planning to action. In January of this year, Jeremy's employer went bankrupt, throwing him and more than 100 other employees out of work. The pair kicked their rollout into high gear, with Jeremy looking for help from Michigan Works and the Downtown Development Authority, and Melanie taking ServSafe classes to keep the planned kitchen operation aboveboard.

According to Jeremy, the permitting process took longer than anticipated, pushing back the expected opening date into late July. "I had no idea it was so complicated to open a business," he laughs.

Now that the preliminary work is behind them, the Pochs are focusing on building the place out and getting it ready for a grand opening later this summer. Most of the non-perishable inventory is already in place, he adds, and he has a team of contractors working from early morning till evening to put in shelves, furniture and decorations.

Rentals and tours might take a bit longer--but once the Pochs have everything up and running, Marquette will finally have an old-time general store to tell the folks back home about. 

Brian Martucci writes about business, finance, food, drink and anything else that catches his fancy. You can find him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci
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